reading

Sunday, 1 November 2015 - 7:06pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 01/11/2015 - 7:06pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Public R&D austerity spending cuts undermine our grandchildren’s future - Bill Mitchell: In this period of fiscal austerity with suppressed overall growth rates and labour market deregulation that undermines working conditions and reduces the incentives to invest in best-practice technology labour productivity is falling – as will living standards in the coming years. The world is locked into an idiotic race-to-the-bottom. It is a curious period really. The hypocrisy of governments, aided and abetted by the right-wing think tanks, who claim they are cutting into public spending to reduce the drain on living standards of our children and grandchildren, is clear to see. What they are really doing is undermining the future prosperity of the next several generations at the same time that they push millions into unemployment and poverty now. Why are we so stupid that we tolerate this nonsense?
  • Higher Education: Capitalism At Its Most Despicable - Paul Buchheit at Common Dreams: The state of higher-ed teaching in America: Years of study by trusting young scholars who end up with academic positions that pay as much as entry-level fast food jobs. Adjuncts made up less than 1/4 of instructional staff in 1969, but now make up over 3/4 of instructors. They make a median wage of about $2,700 per course, with little or no benefits.
  • Central bankers and their irrational fear - Simon Wren-Lewis: A key feature of deficit fetishism is a concern about deficits in the short term. Politicians seem happy to take measures that cut deficits in the short term even if debt becomes higher in the longer term. Indeed the analysis presented by DeLong and Summers argues that hysteresis forces would not have to be that large before austerity would raise long run debt to GDP levels. We also know that deficit fetishism is specific to increases in debt caused by recessions: over the longer run if anything deficit bias implies rising rather than falling levels of government debt. So any form of fiscal stimulus that avoided an increase in debt in the short run but not in the long run would avoid deficit fetishism. That is what a money financed fiscal stimulus aka helicopter money aka People’s QE could do.
  • What Clinton Got Wrong About Snowden - John Kiriakou, who knows a thing or two about whistleblowing, at OtherWords: I’m disappointed, frankly, that somebody running for president of the United States doesn’t know that the Whistleblower Protection Act exempts national security whistleblowers. There are no protections for you if you work for the CIA, NSA, or other federal intelligence agencies — or serve them as a contractor. You take a grave personal risk if you decide to report wrongdoing, and there’s nobody who can protect you.
  • Corbyn in the Media - Paul Myerscough in the London Review of Books: The party members who voted for Corbyn hadn’t suddenly thrown their toys out of the pram just because Miliband lost. This is not a story of the last five years, but the last twenty, and their disillusionment with New Labour is about a great deal more than the Iraq War. For them, Miliband was not ‘too left-wing’; on the contrary, he was a final attempt at compromise. And when it failed, they realised they had had enough. It was too difficult to go on knocking on doors, summoning the necessary conviction, working towards the slim possibility of victory in the hope of implementing a platform of ever-weakening amelioration of the worst effects of neoliberalism. They looked at the candidates on offer, and saw that they had nothing left to lose.
  • On Corbyn and our collapsing orthodoxies - Matthew Richmond, openDemocracy: George Osborne’s supposed “pitch to Labour voters” at the same time as slashing the tax credits of the hard-working families he claims to be so fond of, was “clever politics”. The message is clear: it doesn’t matter that Osborne is pushing through an extreme policy that will make millions of working people dramatically poorer, the simple fact that he declares himself to be on the centre ground automatically makes it so. Or to put it another way, if you brazenly lie you deserve to be taken seriously. Those are the rules. Like it or lump it.
  • Attacks on Sanders, Progressives Falsely Depict Obama As Lefty Failure as Opposed to Neoliberal Success - Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism: In other words, any time anyone tries to present Obama as having failed to implement a “liberal” agenda because the right was too powerful is either an apologist or ignorant. Obama has achieved precisely what he intended to achieve, which was to implement center-right economic policies with tepid social justice measures to divert attention from how he was serving the interests of the 1% and even more so, the 0.1%. And the fact that his allies in Congress have in large measure been voted out of office, that Sanders is going from strength to strength despite his lack of big corporate support, and that the neoliberal diehard Clinton is being forced to feint to the left are signs that the political tectonic plates are shifting. Much more is possible now than was six years ago.
  • Neo-liberal myths constrain our understanding of poverty - Bill Mitchell: A currency-issuing government can always do that and should net spend so that all the idle resources (particularly labour) are productively employed. The solution to poverty is not complex. It is about a lack of income. That is often due to unemployment and insufficient wages (working poor). By ensuring there are enough jobs for all – and maintaining that continuity across the private spending cycle by introducing a – Job Guarantee – a national government can use its fiscal capacity (driven by the fact it issues its own currency) to reduce poverty and income inequality while sustaining economic growth.
  • Free College vs. Cost-benefit Thinking - Elizabeth Popp Berman at orgtheory.net: So I support the free college movement. But I’d like to see its champions stop saying it’s because we need to be globally competitive, or because it’s got a huge ROI. Instead, say it’s because our society will be stronger when more of us are better educated. Say that knowing higher education is an option, and an option you don’t have to mortgage your future for, will improve our quality of life. Say that colleges themselves will be better when they return to seeing students as students, and not as revenue streams.
  • Union power and inequality - Florence Jaumotte and Carolina Osorio Buitron of the Research Department, IMF in VOX. Captain Obvious is uncredited: If our findings are interpreted as causal, higher unionisation and minimum wages can help reduce inequality.
  • Eurozone crosses Rubicon as Portugal's anti-euro Left banned from power - Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The F**king Telegraph, of all places: S**t is f**ked up and bulls**t. End of history, my arse. Europe’s socialists face a dilemma. They are at last waking up to the unpleasant truth that monetary union is an authoritarian Right-wing enterprise that has slipped its democratic leash, yet if they act on this insight in any way they risk being prevented from taking power.
  • Original Sin and Global Stagnation - Paul Krugman, NYT: […] emerging markets still suffer to some extent from original sin — underdeveloped capital markets and a tendency to borrow in foreign currency. This sin isn’t nearly as strong as it was 15 years ago, when Barry Eichengreen and Ricardo Haussman coined the term, but corporate dollar-denominated borrowing after 2008 brought it partially back. […] Oh, and a US interest rate hike, which would not just hit the US economy but also, via a stronger dollar, hit the emerging markets via balance sheets, would do a lot to make things even worse.
  • Central Banks Are Not Agricultural Marketing Boards: Depression Economics, Inflation Economics and the Unsustainability of Friedmanism - Brad DeLong, Washington Center for Equitable Growth: Milton Friedman was very clear that economies could either have too much money (Inflation Economics) or too little money (Depression Economics)–and that a central bank was needed to try to hit the sweet spot. He hoped that hitting the sweet spot could be made into a somewhat automatic rule-controlled process, but he was wrong.
  • I get what you get in ten years, in two days - Noah Smith: The usual economist case for income redistribution is based on utilitarianism; the idea is that $1000 matters more to a poor person than to a rich person. [Greg] Mankiw wants to ditch this idea in favor of a value system based on "just deserts".
  • We need to stop Australia’s genetic heritage from being taken overseas - Steve Wylie, The Conversation: Oh, so much wrong in such a small article. Australia’s scientists should be mining Australia’s gene bank, and all Australians should benefit from the rewards of this intellectual property (IP). International collaboration is the lifeblood of scientific advancement, but so is competition and protecting IP. When Australia’s genetic heritage is lodged in other countries, we have lost control of our IP.
  • Obfuscation: how leaving a trail of confusion can beat online surveillance - Julia Powles at The Guardian reviews Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest by Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum: More than 30 colourful examples – instructive vignettes in their own right – are used to build the case. Roughly a third are analogue, and the images stick. […] Iconic movie scenes, like the switching briefcases in The Thomas Crown Affair, or the powerful “I am Spartacus” moment in Kubrick’s 1960 epic. The authors bring in orb-making spiders, sim-card shuffles, loyalty-card swap meets, “babble tapes” (a digital file played in the background of a conversation in order to obscure it) – all examples where the individual merges with the tribe; where false signals muddy the genuine; where noise and quick feet offer “weapons of the weak”.
  • Secret source code pronounces you guilty as charged - David Kravets at Ars Technica: The results from a Pennsylvania company's TrueAllele DNA testing software have been used in roughly 200 criminal cases, from California to Florida, helping put murderers and rapists in prison. Criminal defense lawyers, however, want to know whether it's junk science. Defense attorneys have routinely asked, and have been denied, access to examine the software's 170,000 lines of source code in a bid to challenge the authenticity of its conclusions. The courts generally have agreed with Cybergenetics, the company behind TrueAllele, that an independent examination of the code is unwarranted, that the code is a proprietary trade secret, and disclosing it could destroy the company financially.
  • Why An Open-Access Publishing Cooperative Can Work: A Proposal for the AAA’s Journal Portfolio - Alberto Corsín Jiménez, John Willinsky, Dominic Boyer, Giovanni da Col and Alex Golub in Cultural Anthropology: Will [American Anthropological Association (AAA)] publications spend yet another decade locked within a publisher website where only research libraries can afford to purchase them? Or can our scholarly work join the growing body of research that is publicly available and accessible as a public good? In this piece we propose a concrete, practical, and financially sustainable way that the AAA can make its publishing program open-access: a cooperative model of scholarly publishing. This tailor-made design will cost the AAA nothing, while giving the organization a chance to be at the forefront of global innovation in scholarly communication.
  • What is a knowledge city? - Nicholas Gruen: We have before us an astonishing new set of technologies which are transforming our lives. Thinking of how we convert them into jobs is a little like welcoming the invention of printing by asking “How many printing jobs can we attract to our city/country”. See also this on how the public are still being ripped off by publishers, it being "hard not to conclude that South Africans will in future be paying far more for knowledge – and will have even less access to it."
  • Marx's relevance today - Chris Dillow: Marx asked, and answered, a fundamental question: what is the point of economic life? For him, it was to increase real freedom and self-realization. Capitalism, he said, doesn't do this but instead alienates us.
  • The Rise and Fall of For-Profit Schools - James Surowiecki, The New Yorker: Students at for-profit schools are able to borrow huge sums of money because the government does not take creditworthiness into account when making most student loans. The goal is noble: everyone should be able to go to college. The result, though, is that too many people end up with debts they cannot repay. Seen this way, the students at for-profit schools look a lot like the homeowners during the housing bubble. In both cases, powerful ideological forces pushed people to borrow (“Homeownership is the path to wealth”; “Education is the key to the future”). In both cases, credit was cheap and easy to come by. And in both cases the people pushing the loans (mortgage brokers and for-profit schools) didn’t have to worry about whether those loans were reasonable, since they got paid regardless.
  • The British Tax Credits system is a sign of New Labour failure - Bill Mitchell: I consider that no worker should be paid below what is considered the lowest tolerable material standard of living just because some low wage-low productivity operator wants to produce in a country and make ‘cheap’ profits. I don’t consider that the private ‘market’ is an arbiter of the values that a society should aspire to or maintain. That is where I differ significantly from my profession. The employers always want the wages system to be totally deregulated so that the ‘market can work’ without fetters. This will apparently tell us what workers are ‘worth’. The problem is that the so-called ‘market” in its pure conceptual form is an amoral, ahistorical construct and cannot project the societal values that bind communities and peoples to higher order considerations. The minimum wage is a values-based concept and should not be determined by a market.
  • Avoiding the Financial Resource Curse - Noah Smith at Bloomberg View: There is something unsettling about watching the financial sector become a bigger and bigger part of what people do for a living. After all, finance is all about allocation of resources -- pushing asset prices toward their correct value so businesses can know what projects to invest in. But when a huge percent of a country’s effort and capital are put into finance, there are less and less resources to reallocate. We can’t all get rich trading houses and bonds back and forth.

Sunday, 25 October 2015 - 11:48am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 25/10/2015 - 11:48am in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Crossed wires: ISPs are already struggling to retain our metadata - Philip Branch in the Conversation: Today we learnt that 84% of internet service providers (ISPs) in Australia have not met the deadline set by the federal government for them to start collecting metadata. And 61% are asking for some exemption or variation in the requirements specified in the legislation. Wait. We're doing what now? Clearly I have not been paying enough attention.
  • Snowden and Allies Issue Warnings as Australia Unleashes Mass Spying - Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams. Oh. Okay, it's this:
  • Unpaid Care Work, Women, and GDP - Tim Taylor: In a broader sense, of course, the issue is not to chase GDP, but to focus on the extent to which people around the world are having the opportunity to fulfill their capabilities and to make choices about their lives. Countries where women have more autonomy also tend to be countries where the female-to-male ratios of time spent on unpaid care are not as high. The share of unpaid care provided by women highly correlated with women's ability to participate in the paid workforce, as well as to acquire skills and experience that lead to better-paying jobs, as well as participating in other activities like political leadership.
  • Former U.S. Detainees Sue Psychologists Responsible For CIA Torture Program - Jenna McLaughlin at the Intercept: “There’s much talk about interrogation” when it comes to Mitchell and Jessen, [ACLU attorney Steven Watt] says. “But it wasn’t about gathering information for them. It was about breaking [the inmates] down, it was about torturing them. That was their true intent.”
  • On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail): Why Washington Can’t “Stand Up” Foreign Militaries - Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch: Based on their performance, the security forces on which the Pentagon has lavished years of attention remain visibly not up to the job. Meanwhile, ISIS warriors, without the benefit of expensive third-party mentoring, appear plenty willing to fight and die for their cause. Ditto Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The beneficiaries of U.S. assistance? Not so much. Based on partial but considerable returns, Vietnamization 2.0 seems to be following an eerily familiar trajectory that should remind anyone of Vietnamization 1.0. Meanwhile, the questions that ought to have been addressed back when our South Vietnamese ally went down to defeat have returned with a vengeance.
  • TPP is “Worst Trade Agreement” for Medicine Access, Says Doctors Without Borders - Tharanga Yakupitiyage, Inter Press Service: MSF treats almost 300,000 people with HIV/AIDS in 21 countries with generic drugs. These drugs have reduced the organization's cost of treatment from US$10,000 per patient per year to US$140 per patient per year. […] As part of the TPP negotiations, the U.S. sought to include the 12-year protection rule. Trade ministers went back and forth on the rule, finally settling on a mandatory minimum of five to eight years of data protection. […] MSF predicts that at least half a billion people will be unable to access medicines once the TPP takes effect.
  • EasyJet and Gap Yahs - Richard Seymour: The left critique of the EU says that it's a Europe of the neoliberal bourgeoisie, a Europe of spivs, business mercenaries and yuppies. Meanwhile, the major campaign for the EU defends it on the grounds that it's a Europe of the neoliberal bourgeoisie, a Europe of spivs, business mercenaries and yuppies.
  • Weak States, Poor Countries - This week's Nobel laureate economist Angus Deaton in an article from 2013 republished by Project Syndicate: The absence of state capacity – that is, of the services and protections that people in rich countries take for granted – is one of the major causes of poverty and deprivation around the world. Without effective states working with active and involved citizens, there is little chance for the growth that is needed to abolish global poverty. (My emphasis.)
  • Structural Reform Beyond Glass-Steagall - Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute. Worth reading for this quote: One of the brilliant insights from the neoliberal political project is that if you want to do something brutal that politics won’t sustain, you have “the market” do it. Can’t destroy Medicare? Turn it over to the market it and give people coupons for it that slowly die out. Then it is seen as a natural outcome, even if “the market” here is just the continuation of politics by other means.
  • A stimulus junkie's lament - Simon Wren-Lewis: [I]mportantly, in the years preceding [2009, Germany] built up a huge competitive advantage by undercutting its Eurozone neighbours via low wage increases. This is little different in effect from beggar my neighbour devaluation. It is a demand stimulus, but (unlike fiscal stimulus) one that steals demand from other countries. This may or may not have been intended, but it should make German officials think twice before they laud their own performance to their Eurozone neighbours. If these neighbours start getting decent macro advice and some political courage, they might start replying that Germany’s current prosperity is a result of theft.
  • Thanks to Sanders, Democratic Party Just Debated Merits of Capitalism - Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams: I prefer to think of it as "Thanks to growing popular opposition to neoliberalism, an avowed socialist can be a potential US president". Either way it's significant.
  • Life plus 70: who really benefits from copyright’s long life? - Catherine Bond in the Conversation provides your summary of copyright state of play for this week: According to data generated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a woman in Australia aged 30 in 2012 will likely live for another 54.90 years. If this figure is correct in my case, then copyright will protect this article for nearly 125 years. It will officially enter the public domain on 1 January, 2141. Is what I say in this article so significant that I, and many generations of Bonds to come, should enjoy a right to control who copies this piece for the course of the next century and beyond?
  • Three Years Ago, These Chicago Workers Took Over a Window Factory. Today, They're Thriving - Sarah van Gelder, YES! Magazine: This is what local power looks like: companies like New Era Windows and Doors creating the stability that comes with locally rooted employment, insulated from the speculative finance that, in the case of publicly traded companies, requires many jobs be moved to low-wage regions. These worker-owners focus on values, including the possibility for others to also be worker-owners, and the importance of producing ecologically smart products.
  • The fiscal charter media fiasco - Simon Wren-Lewis: Even the ‘highbrow’ news programmes like Channel 4 news and Newsnight chose to spend most of its time talking about U-turns on either side. No mention of the complete lack of economic support for this charter. On an issue with such important consequences, is that fulfilling a duty to inform? We have millions of hardworking but poor families who will be made substantially worse off as a result of a fiscal rule which no academic economist has supported? Will these families ever find that out? What does that tell us about our media, and our democracy?
  • Brazil´s Sudden Neoliberal U-Turn - Franklin Serrano, North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA): President Rousseff and her party […] decided — in an attempt to reduce the rising criticism from firms, banks, part of the Congress, and the media — that the government was intervening “too much” in the economy. They shifted the government’s economic role to providing incentives (generous, unconditional tax cuts to firms) for private investment so as that the business sector would lead (instead of follow) economic growth. This policy failed completely.
  • Thinking the unthinkable - John Quiggin: There is now overwhelming evidence that for-profit education has been a disastrous failure wherever it has been tried, and particularly where for-profit firms can gain access to public funds through policies designed to enhance “consumer choice”.
  • This new $5 service will endure the hassle of canceling Comcast for you - Ashley Rodriguez, Quartz: Capitalism: Delivering innovative solutions to the problems it creates. And the problems created by those solutions. And so on.
  • AUSTERITY 101: The Three Reasons Republican Deficit Hawks Are Wrong - Robert Reich explains Keynesian countercyclical stimulus:
  • Conning the working-class - Chris Dillow: [S]ocial comparison theory tells us that people compare themselves to those who are like them. […] It's tempting for lefties to believe that people vote Tory because of "neoliberal" ideology and the right-wing media. But there might be more to it than this. Even without such propaganda, there are cognitive biases at work which undermine class solidarity.
  • What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death? - Jonathan Mahler: A mere six months late, the US newspaper of record concedes that Sy Hersh may be right and Hollywood may be wrong. The system works, America!
  • Populism and Patrimonialism - John Quiggin at Crooked Timber: There’s nothing inherently ludicrous in the suggestion that the very rich should pay most or all of the costs of sustaining a system that benefits them so greatly. […] Teenagers from high-income families are increasingly less likely to work, particularly in minimum wage jobs that do nothing for a resume. More importantly, as the real value of the minimum wage has fallen, the number of “working poor” or near-poor households has risen. […] So, it’s time for populism. A program based on taxing the rich much more heavily and raising the minimum wage is not only politically saleable but economically sensible.
  • While Sanders Scores Small Donors, Clinton and Bush Buoyed by Wall Street - Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams: Wall Street's support for its former champion in the U.S. Senate, Clinton, is not surprising, despite her recent pledges to get tough on corporate malfeasance and Wall Street greed. "She’s doing that because of Bernie," Camden Fine, the head of the Independent Community Bankers of America, said in an interview with Morning Consult this week. "She’s gonna all of a sudden become Mrs. Wall Street if she’s elected. So it’s all Bernie theatrics right now. She’s a Clinton, for God’s sake. What do you expect?"
  • Big Win For Fair Use In Google Books Lawsuit - Corynne McSherry: Court fails to crumble in the face of the evil incantation "intellectual property".
  • How television fails in its duty to inform - Simon Wren-Lewis makes a pithy observation: Take for example the clip where the Prime Minister lied about cuts to tax credits. There David Dimbleby asks him by saying “some people” have suggested tax credits would be cut, rather than “every non-partisan expert”. This may seem small, but this kind of detailed textual analysis is critical (and it is what many journalists have been trained to do).
  • Everything You Need to Know about Laissez-Faire Economics - David S. Wilson interviews Alan Kirman: [Gary] Becker had the economics of everything—divorce, whatever. You’d have these simple arguments, but not necessarily selection arguments, often some sort of justification in terms of a superior arrangement. The marginal utility of the woman getting divorced just has to equal the marginal utility of not getting divorced and that would be the price of getting divorced, and that sort of stuff. Adam Smith would have rolled over in this grave because he believed emotions played a strong role in all of this and the emotions that you have during divorce don’t tie into these strict calculations.
  • Technical change as collective action problem - Chris Dillow: We can imagine a society in which super-machines do indeed allow us all to live in luxurious leisure. But the decentralized decisions of capitalists might not get us there.
  • The Hi-Tech Mess of Higher Education - David Bromwich in the New York Review of Books reviews the film Ivory Tower: [H]owever fanciful the conceit may be, the MOOC movement has a clear economic motive. Many universities today want to cut back drastically on the payment of classroom teachers. It is important therefore to convince us that teachers have never been the focus of real learning.
  • Why the Fiscal Charter makes no economic sense - James Meadway at New Economics Foundation: A surplus on the government budget means the government is getting more in taxes than it is spending. Those taxes have to come from somewhere – us! If those tax receipts are not spent, this is simply sucking money out of the economy, rather than doing something useful with it. This is particularly acute when the economy enters a recession. Since a recession means households and firms are spending less, the government needs to spend more to compensate. A rule to always deliver a surplus would prevent that.
  • Bernie Sanders has morphed into a serious contender - Bob Rigg, openDemocracy. Bernie hasn't morphed; the commentariat have, slowly and reluctantly: What is really fascinating about the debate is that all three focus groups set up by CNN, Fox News and Fusion strongly endorsed Bernie Sanders. In the case of the CNN group, although more than half had supported Clinton when the debate began, a clear majority actively supported Sanders at the end. In the case of Fox News, an overwhelming majority enthusiastically supported Bernie Sanders, to the ill-concealed consternation of some resident talking heads.
  • “Arabian Street Artists” Bomb Homeland: Why We Hacked an Award-Winning Series - Heba Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl a.k.a Stone. Absolute genius: At the beginning of June 2015, we received a phone call from a friend who […] had been contacted by “Homeland’s” set production company who were looking for “Arabian street artists” to lend graffiti authenticity to a film set of a Syrian refugee camp on the Lebanese/Syrian border for their new season. Given the series’ reputation we were not easily convinced, until we considered what a moment of intervention could relay about our own and many others’ political discontent with the series. It was our moment to make our point by subverting the message using the show itself.
  • Hillary vs. Bernie Will Decide the Future of the American Left - Elizabeth Bruenig in the New Republic: In November of 2014, Sweden’s prime minister Stefan Löfven explained the logic of universal benefits in a conversation at NYU Law School, saying the main focus of such programs is to build “a welfare system for everybody, for all, rich and poor—because universal solutions have lower transaction costs, and it also [has] the advantage that you mobilize everybody to support the institutions that brings this welfare system.”
  • Scores of Scores: How Companies Are Reducing Consumers to Single Numbers - Frank Pasquale, The Atlantic: Though consumers have not been able to glimpse the actual algorithms for setting scores, some basic contours of credit scoring are intelligible: Don’t run up too much debt, and don’t be late on payments. But by 2009, financiers were scrutinizing more data, in ways completely opaque to scored consumers. Buy “little felt pads that stop chair legs from scratching the floor”? You might be rewarded with a higher credit line, or lower interest-rate offers. Purchase a beer at a billiards bar? Expect the opposite.
  • China's latest building binge: the education factory - Alexandra Harney at Reuters: Cities around China are carving out tracts of land for school parks - dubbed "education factories" - designed to train hundreds of thousands of students.[…] But the expansion comes even as many existing vocational schools are struggling to live up to their promise. Sounds oddly familiar.
  • Slow Burn: Bernie Sanders Ignites a Populist Movement - Rick Perlstein, The Washington Spectator: The crowd’s response is so ecstatic it overdrives my tape recorder. It continues into a chant: “BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE! BERNIE!” And when the show ends, a crowd in a nearly post-coital mood of sated exhilaration doesn’t want to leave, doesn’t leave, until Bernie returns to to the podium for something I’ve never witnessed at a political event, an encore, and announces that the crowd numbered 6,000.
  • Consequences of the Canadian Liberal Majority - Ian Welsh: Justin Trudeau is going to feel good, for a while, compared to Harper. He will be better. He will repeal some of Harper’s worst policies. He will also not be an offensive creep, and that matters. But he is, at the end of the day, a believer in the neo-liberal consensus. He will run a kinder neoliberalism, but it will still be neoliberalism.
  • Guest post: Dirty Rant About The Human Brain Project - Anonymous Neuroscientist that Cathy O'Neil knows: So, the next time you see a pretty 3D picture of many neurons being simulated, think “cargo cult brain”. That simulation isn’t gonna think any more than the cargo cult planes are gonna fly. The reason is the same in both cases: We have no clue about what principles allow the real machine to operate. We can only create pretty things that are superficially similar in the ways that we currently understand, which an enlightened being (who has some vague idea how the thing actually works) would just laugh at.

Sunday, 18 October 2015 - 10:35am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 18/10/2015 - 10:35am in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • CNN and the NYT Are Deliberately Obscuring Who Perpetrated the Afghan Hospital Attack - Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept: "The headline states: “Air attacks kill at least 19 at Afghanistan hospital; U.S. investigating.” What’s the U.S. role in this incident? They’re the investigators: like Sherlock Holmes after an unsolved crime. The article itself repeatedly suggests the same: “The United States said it was investigating what struck the hospital during the night.” It’s a fascinating whodunit and the U.S. is determined to get to the bottom of it."
  • Sweden is shifting to a 6-hour work day - ScienceAlert: "A study published in The Lancet last month analysed data from 25 studies that monitored health of over 600,000 people from the US, Europe, and Australia for up to 8.5 years found that people who worked 55 hours a week had a 33 percent greater risk of having a stroke than people who worked a 35 - 40 hour week, and a 13 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, while a separate study found that working 49-hour weeks was associated with lower mental health, particularly in women."
  • Disliking Tragedy: Facebook’s Struggle to Convey Serious News - H.L. Starnes, the Society Pages: "Facebook, when taken on the whole, is a fantastic way for people to compare each others’ lives and share pictures of kittens and children, but when it comes to a tragedy, the platform is woefully inadequate at allowing its users to parse and process the gravity of events as they unfold. It is a thorough shock to a system that thrives on irreverent links and topical memes, and when faced with an item that requires genuine reflection and thought, it is often simpler – indeed, even more beneficial – for users to turn their heads until the kittens may resume."
  • The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification - Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept: "[O]nly the most savage barbarians would decide that it’s justified to raze a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and patients to the ground. Yet mounting evidence suggests that this is exactly what the U.S. military did – either because it chose to do so or because its Afghan allies fed them the coordinates of this hospital which they have long disliked. As a result, we now have U.S. and Afghan officials expressly justifying the consummate war crime: deliberately attacking a hospital filled with doctors, nurses and wounded patients."
  • Greece Without Illusions - Yanis Varoufakis, Project Syndicate: "The shift reflects the mandate that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought and gained. Last January, when I stood with him, we asked voters to back our determination to end the “extend-and-pretend” bailouts that had pushed Greece into a black hole and operated as the template for austerity policies across Europe. The government that was returned on September 20 has the opposite mandate: to implement an “extend-and-pretend” bailout program – indeed, the most toxic variant ever."
  • How Scientists Search the Cosmos for Encrypted Alien Signals (And Other Ones Too) - Micah Lee at the Intercept. I listened to this podcast, and thought this was the most forehead-slapping so-obvious-why-has-it-never-occured-to-me observation ever: "In any advanced civilization, there is only a “small period in the development of their society when all of their communications will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means,” Snowden said. And that if we pick up signals emanating from that civilization’s homeworld, such as television shows, phone calls, or satellite communication, it will most likely be encrypted because “all of their communications [would be] encrypted by default.” Because of how encryption works, those encrypted messages would be “indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation.”"
  • The Ideology of Money Scarcity - J.D. Alt at NEP: "The conservatives wield every opportunity to invoke the mantra that the government is broke and its spending must be reined in, while the liberals (like senator Sanders) find themselves helpless to refute the “logic” that the many things they want the government to spend money on are severely limited by the fact that everyone (including the U.S. government itself) is competing for what appears to be a finite and limited pot of dollars. […] It’s a “beautiful” business model if your goals are to maximize shareholder profits and executive bonuses. As a business model for humanity—and for humanity as a dependent member of the earth’s community of integrated ecosystems—it is fast becoming, quite simply, an unmitigated disaster."
  • How Erratic Schedules Penalize Workers - Naomi Gerstel in the Society Pages: "Hit hardest are low-wage workers and women of color – frequently women who are single mothers. Understandably, the workers affected by so much unpredictability often experience stress, conflicts, and health problems. Low-wage employees cannot afford to pay for high-quality child care or care for elderly family members – a problem made worse when they must go to work at odd hours. These workers often do not get any vacation time, another workplace perk that is increasingly available only to the most privileged employees."
  • The Unanswered Question Of The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What Sovereign Rights Did We Just Sign Away? - Ben Eltham at New Matilda: "Attacking the TPP shouldn’t be too difficult, given that the government has signed a contract that ordinary Australians aren’t even allowed to see. In a properly functioning democracy, we’d know exactly what the agreement says, and what Australia is singing up to. The TPP shows that’s far from the reality."
  • Bitcoins are a waste of energy - literally - John Quiggin at ABC's the Drum: "The external value of fiat money is more subtle than that of a metal coin. It is inherent in the fact that the government issuing the currency is willing to accept it in payment of taxes and other obligations. If the US government ceased to exist, people might choose to go on using US dollars as a medium of exchange for a while. Ultimately, however, all currencies without an external source of value must share the fate of the Confederate dollar and similar former currencies, becoming, at best, collectors' items. In the end, Bitcoins will attain their true economic value of zero." This is the most MMT-informed reasoning I've yet heard from Quiggin. Welcome to the church, brother John.
  • The TPP’s one-way ratchet - Quiggin again, at Inside Story. Does the man ever sleep?: "Until and unless the TPP comes into effect, there is no [Investor-State Dispute Settlement] clause in trade agreements between Australia and the United States. But this was no problem for Philip Morris: the company reincorporated itself in Hong Kong, which does have such a clause in its agreement with Australia. The TPP will render such dodges unnecessary for foreign companies based in signatory countries. The big benefit will be for Australian corporations which can base themselves in the United States and then, effectively, place themselves above Australian law."
  • Why Free College Is Necessary - the unreasonably brilliant Tressie McMillan Cottom in Dissent: "I do not care if free college won’t solve inequality. As an isolated policy, I know that it won’t. I don’t care that it will likely only benefit the high achievers among the statistically unprivileged—those with above-average test scores, know-how, or financial means compared to their cohort. Despite these problems, today’s debate about free college tuition does something extremely valuable. It reintroduces the concept of public good to higher education discourse—a concept that fifty years of individuation, efficiency fetishes, and a rightward drift in politics have nearly pummeled out of higher education altogether. We no longer have a way to talk about public education as a collective good because even we defenders have adopted the language of competition. President Obama justified his free community college plan on the grounds that “Every American . . . should be able to earn the skills and education necessary to compete and win in the twenty-first century economy.” Meanwhile, for-profit boosters claim that their institutions allow “greater access” to college for the public. But access to what kind of education? Those of us who believe in viable, affordable higher ed need a different kind of language. You cannot organize for what you cannot name."
  • Generation Debt - Mike Konczal in the same series of articles for Dissent: "Higher education also provides one of the last spaces for young people not shaped solely by market values. The American liberal arts model is unique in that it allows for experimentation, learning, and community-building. Attacks on higher education haven’t simply been about raising tuition but about dismantling this model itself. A notable example is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recent attempt to remove phrases such as “improve the human condition,” “the search for truth,” and “public service” from the state university’s mission, reorienting it simply toward the needs of business."
  • Learning Nothing In Europe - Paul Krugman, NYT: "My spending is your income, your spending is my income, so if everyone slashes spending and tries to pay down debt at the same time, incomes fall and debt problems probably get worse. […] But German officials see this all as a tale of their virtue versus everyone else’s lack thereof. This means that nobody will change course aside from the ECB, which is in the process of finding out just how limited monetary policy really is when interest rates are already very low and fiscal policy is pulling in the wrong direction."
  • 3 reasons why the Tories' obsession with 'hardwork' is blind idiocy - Gabriel Bristow, openDemocracy: "Have you ever heard somebody say that the cuts are 'ideological', rather than an economic necessity? Well, this is precisely what they mean. As [Jeremy] Hunt lays out so magnificently, cutting in-work benefits is a 'cultural signal' intended to somehow magic up some national spirit of graft. Not to worry that the crux of the issue is that low pay is set by unscrupulous employers and bears no relation to how hard people work whatsoever."
  • What Ever Happened to Google Books? - Tim Wu in the New Yorker: "Unfortunately, Google made the mistake it often makes, which is to assume that people will trust it just because it’s Google. For their part, authors and publishers, even if they did eventually settle, were difficult and conspiracy-minded, particularly when it came to weighing abstract and mainly worthless rights against the public’s interest in gaining access to obscure works."
  • Human Capital and Knowledge - Paul Romer: There are Grand Theory alarm bells to be heard in every sentence here, eg. "Here is the true micro-foundation that I used to think about human capital. Human capital is stored as neural connections in a brain."
  • The Bezzle Years - John Kay, Project Syndicate: "The joy of the bezzle is that two people – each ignorant of the other’s existence and role – can enjoy the same wealth. […] Households in US cities received mortgages in 2006 that they could never hope to repay, while taxpayers never dreamed that they would be called on to bail out the lenders. Shareholders in banks could not have understood that the dividends they received before 2007 were actually money that they had borrowed from themselves."
  • "The country can't afford" - Chris Dillow: "The cost of tax credits is NOT the £29.5bn which the government spends on them. This is a transfer. Instead, the costs are the deadweight costs associated with them: for example, the cost of administering a complex system (which is one reason why I prefer a basic income), or the disincentive effects they create - for example, the higher taxes levied on other people to pay tax credits. The latter are, however, moot: a big purpose of tax credits is to raise in-work income and so incentivize work. Whether tax credits are therefore a cost at all is thus questionable."
  • 12 Questions Every Economics Student Should Ask About Their Education - Post-Crash Economics Society: I find this checklist more useful than vague assertions of acquired "learning outcomes" and "graduate attributes". Shame my university doesn't teach economics, or history, or philosophy, or…
  • Sociology as Un-Learning - Afshan Jafar, the Society Pages: "At 10:37 a.m., exactly 12 minutes since class was supposed to start, I put my phone away, picked up the syllabus and started class as if nothing unusual had just transpired."
  • Clinton's opposition encourages some TPP foes, but provokes critics who see it as political maneuver - Meteor Blades at Daily Kos: "Whether it's a fair judgment or not, Clinton's reputation for triangulation and an excessive wet-finger-in-the-wind approach to policy is going to dog any leftward change in viewpoint—or seeming change—that she makes throughout the campaign, even when those new viewpoints are ones her liberal critics support." I'm just not won over by Hillary's new sheep's clothing. At the end of the day, she still likes to kick back and enjoy a few brewskies with old pals like Greenspan and Kissinger.
  • Politics as therapy: they want us to be just sick enough not to fight back - Michael Richmond, openDemocracy: "The capitalist class would like us to be just sick enough not to fight back, but not so sick that we cannot work. The challenge for us is to find ways of organising and helping each other so that we can find adequate levels of social reproduction, care and support to give us a platform to engage in the therapy of class struggle."
  • Hardware Reductionism
  • Why the U.S. Owns the Rise of Islamic State and the Syria Disaster - Gareth Porter in Truthdig. A handy primer: "Pundits and politicians are already looking for a convenient explanation for the twin Middle East disasters of the rise of Islamic State and the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. The genuine answer is politically unpalatable, because the primary cause of both calamities is U.S. war and covert operations in the Middle East, followed by the abdication of U.S. power and responsibility for Syria policy to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni allies."
  • Australia Forgets that Code is Cultural: Replaces History and Geography with Computer Science - Jenny Davis in the Society Pages: "Before leaving his post as Australia’s Education Minister, Christopher Pyne approved a major restructuring of the public school curriculum. […] This replacement fundamentally misunderstands the deeply social nature of programming and code. To treat technical skill as somehow separate from socio-historical knowledge is not only fallacious, but bodes poorly for the future that the curricular shift is intended to improve. Computer science is historical and geographic. Code is culturally rooted and inherently creative."
  • Uncovering The Secret History Of Myers-Briggs - Merve Emre - Digg: "I have heard bemused stories of how applicants to elite, cultish hedge funds and Silicon Valley startups are asked to take a Myers-Briggs test early in their job searches, only to be weeded out as unfavorable candidates based on their type. I have heard of managers who exploit personality profiles, invoking type to bully, shame, and strong-arm their employees. Employees, for their part, have little recourse. Ironically, personality testing's status as a pseudo-science — as opposed to a hard science, like DNA or medical testing — means that there are no legal safeguards in place that protect employees from discrimination based on type."
  • Dear Old Trump University - Tom the Dancing Bug by Ruben Bolling
  • Ben Bernanke Is Fed Up - Chad Stone, US News: "In Bernanke's harsh but accurate judgment, "fiscal policymakers, far from helping the economy, appeared to be actively working to hinder it." He's talking about Republican congressional efforts to use "must pass" legislation – e.g., raising the legal limit on total federal debt or approving annual spending bills to fund the government – as bargaining chips to achieve deep cuts in government spending, even when the economy is weak."
  • Is Money Corrupting Research? - Luigi Zingales, NYT: "A paper can be misleading or economical with the truth even when not blatantly false. And reputational incentives work relatively well only for academic papers that circulate widely in the relevant academic community and are independently scrutinized in peer review. […] A scarier possibility is that reputational incentives do not work because the practice of bending an opinion for money is so widespread as to be the norm."
  • Surgical Strike - George Monbiot: "There are no simple solutions to the chaos and complexities Western firepower has helped to unleash, though a good start would be to stop making them worse. […] Twelve years into the conflict in Iraq, 14 years into the fighting in Afghanistan, after repeated announcements of victory or withdrawal, military action appears only to have replaced the old forms of brutality and chaos with new ones. And yet it continues. War appears to have become an end in itself."
  • Does apathy to the political system among young people point to a crisis in Australian democracy? - Travers McCloud from the Centre for Policy Development: TL;DR: Yes.
  • Must-read: The Neoliberal Arts: How college sold its soul to the market - brilliant essay by William Deresiewicz in Harpers: "Instead of treating higher education as a commodity, we need to treat it as a right. Instead of seeing it in terms of market purposes, we need to see it once again in terms of intellectual and moral purposes. That means resurrecting one of the great achievements of postwar American society: high-quality, low- or no-cost mass public higher education. An end to the artificial scarcity of educational resources. An end to the idea that students must compete for the privilege of going to a decent college, and that they then must pay for it."

Sunday, 11 October 2015 - 11:58am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 11/10/2015 - 11:58am in

This week, I have been mostly reading the Internet. All of it:

  • People's QE: no big deal - Chris Dillow: "In fact, it could be that the problem with PQE is that - if undertaken at a time of recession - it would not be radical enough."
  • Welfare's last stand - Jennifer Mittelstadt in Aeon: "Military leaders embarked on a new and more ambitious social welfare programme after 1973. That year, President Richard Nixon and Congress ended the draft and mandated an all-volunteer force. Military leaders could no longer force citizens to join – they had to convince them. And one of their most vital tools was social welfare benefits."
  • Japan Dumbs Down Its Universities - Noah Smith at Bloomberg View: "Essentially, Japan’s government just ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law. The order, issued in the form of a letter from Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is non-binding. The country’s two top public universities have refused to comply. But dozens of public schools are doing as the government has urged."
  • Economic policy often seems to have little to do with economists. Why? - Simon Wren-Lewis in the Independent: "The problem is that City economists are not the best source for advice on major macroeconomic policy issues, like what to do with the deficit. This does require a knowledge of “proper research”, the academics’ area of expertise. What we often get reported instead is what “the market” thinks about policy. This is code for the speculation of City economists who have little policy expertise and a set of biases that come from the financial sector (deficits are bad, low taxes are good)."
  • A Handy Guide for Using the Oxford Comma - Akira Okrent and Mike Rogalski
  • The (near) inevitability, and who and when, of Helicopter Money - Nick Rowe at A Worthwhile Canadian Initiative: Struggling to get my head around the details on helicopters, easings (quantitative), where monetary ends and fiscal begins, and have a lurking suspicion that the details don't matter.
  • If You See a Little Piketty in This Tax-Haven Book, That's Fine - Jesse Drucker reviews Gabriel Zucman in Bloomberg Businessweek: "During his research, Zucman had a eureka moment. For years, economists have puzzled over a mystery in obscure economic data: financial liabilities around the world consistently outstrip the reported financial assets held by investors –- by trillions of dollars. […] Those trillions were missing because they were showing up as shares of mutual funds incorporated in tax havens, primarily in Luxembourg, Grand Cayman and Ireland. His theory: wealthy investors around the world have used the investments, often made through Swiss bank accounts, to hide their wealth." And…
  • Why is so much wealth hidden? Failed democracy. - Marshall Steinbaum at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth: "Subverting democratic control of economic policy is a big reason why inequality has gotten so high across the developed world. Zucman’s book carefully documents the result in the case of tax havens, but the lesson is far more general: Inequality is high because of past inegalitarian choices that policymakers have made, and we must revisit those choices if we’re to address inequality going forward."
  • It’s not a lack of self-control that keeps people poor - Elliot Berkman in the Conversation: "The very definition of self-control is choosing behaviors that favor long-term outcomes over short-term rewards, but poverty can force people to live in a permanent now. Worrying about tomorrow can be a luxury if you don’t know how you’ll survive today. […] People who grow up in poverty quickly learn that it doesn’t pay off to save for an uncertain future if the reward they are waiting for sometimes isn’t there after the wait."
  • Why Is College So Expensive if Professors Are Paid So Little? - Michelle Chen in the Nation: "SEIU's adjunct-organizing project estimates that as of 2013, "22 percent of part-time faculty live below the poverty line," significantly higher than the overall poverty rate nationwide. But the hyperinflated price tag of college has funneled toward another aspect of the higher education system: driving funds into administrative offices - a pattern "reflected in increases in the numbers of administrative positions, increases in those salaries, and increases in the percentage of college budgets going to these functions.""
  • NIB: good economics, bad politics - Chris DIllow: "Even the best private equity investors back a lot of duds: Marc Andreesen has estimated that 15 of 200 tech startups a year generate around 95% of the total returns. […] And here's my problem. Our biased press will focus upon the latter. "Corbyn's bank costs taxpayers" millions would be a regular story. […] For this reason, I welcome Corbyn's refusal to kowtow to the media. It is only by refusing to play their silly games that we have any hope of a rational economic policy."
  • Imagining the BBC as new - John Sheil, openDemocracy: "We find ourselves in the same position as many of those who protested and campaigned against austerity in defence of higher education: what are we in fact defending? A top-down structure, supporting a super-white curricula, with privilege-generation written in its mechanic code, run by disillusioned professors of geography whose job – it sometimes feels – is to campaign for students to pay more tuition fees for much redacted and reduced resources. What would it be to imagine a free university? What would it be to imagine a BBC free to engage confidently in rigorous debate of ideas and values?"
  • So Much in Common - Ted Rall
  • Piggate: the behavioural economics - Chris Dillow: "Initiation rites thus act as a bonding device […] This is very similar to the endowment effect - our tendency to value something merely because we have sacrificed effort or money to get it. Dan Ariely calls this the Ikea effect: having suffered the eighth circle of hell in going to Ikea and then the pain of assembling their furniture, you will value it all the more." Personally, assembling flat pack furniture just makes me want to drag it out onto the front lawn and disassemble it with a sledgehammer.
  • People love Bernie Sanders policies even when they've never heard of him - VL Baker at Daily Kos
  • The path from deficit concern to deficit deceit - Simon Wren-Lewis: "What a strange world we are now in. The government goes for rapid deficit reduction as a smokescreen for reducing the size of the state. No less than a former cabinet secretary accuses the Chancellor of this deceit. Yet when a Labour leadership contender adopts an anti-austerity policy he is told it is extreme and committing electoral suicide."
  • Corbyn public ownership push reflects what is happening all round the world - Andrew Cumbers, the Conversation: "Cash-strapped cities and regions are rediscovering that public utilities can provide profitable and sustainable revenue streams to cross-subsidise other services in times of austerity and budget cutbacks by national governments. In Frankfurt, as in many other German cities, the local stadtwerke finances local swimming pools, parks, libraries and other public services."
  • Pope Decries “Shameful and Culpable Silence” on Arms Sales “Drenched in Innocent Blood” - Dan Froomkin, the Intercept: "Thursday’s speech was not the first time the Pope has spoken out about the arms trade. He referred to it as “the industry of death” in a talk with Italian schoolchildren in May. “Why do so many powerful people not want peace? Because they live off war,” he said."
  • EPA opposed DMCA exemptions that could have revealed Volkswagen fraud - Donald Robertson at the Free Software Foundation: "As Eben Moglen, founder of the Software Freedom Law Center noted "If Volkswagen knew that every customer who buys a vehicle would have a right to read the source code of all the software in the vehicle, they would never even consider the cheat, because the certainty of getting caught would terrify them.”"
  • Does the deficit matter? - Richard Murphy: "So, why the obsession with the deficit? This is short term politics: Goerge Osborne has spun a line that denies both the above facts and he has (undeniably) sold it well. The UK public believe, almost alone in the world now, that deficits are in some way a threat to well being. Actually they are not. As I have already noted today, government deficits are both the foundation of private wealth and money itself. To suggest otherwise is factually incorrect."
  • It's The Economists, Stupid - Ideas, CBC Radio: Good mediamacro-debunking interviews with Julie Nelson and Richard Denniss
  • Of clowns and treasurers - Richard Denniss in the Monthly, a long read (from a few months ago) worth every minute: "It was a choice to throw a trillion dollars at the bankers. And it is a choice not to throw a trillion at tackling climate change. Our politicians pretend that it is a choice made by “the markets”. It’s not. It’s a choice made by our politicians."
  • The unspun Jeremy Corbyn - Alex Nunns, Le Monde diplomatique: "That this movement took the form of a Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign is doubly surprising because the man himself is the antithesis of the stereotypical leftwing firebrand. Without the rousing oratorical skills of his mentor, the late Tony Benn, and with none of the raw charisma of Alexis Tsipras, Corbyn was not perceived as a threat by his fellow MPs. Remarkably, Corbyn’s straightforward, unspun style became an asset, marking him out as a total contrast from the media-trained salesmen of the British political class."
  • Samsung TVs appear less energy efficient in real life than in tests - Arthur Neslen, The Guardian: The Defective by Design floodgates open.
  • Not exactly SF, but pretty fucking Orwellian just the same - Peter Watts: "[W]hat about the poor assholes with three kids, up to their eyeballs in debt, who’ve just watched their retirement saving evaporate because [Toronto Dominion Bank's] American buddies played fast and loose with the global game of AD&D we call “the economy”? What about those people who simply can’t afford to walk away, no matter how badly they’re treated? […] These are the people the bank knows it can shit all over, because they have a high Vulnerability Index."
  • The Truth About Chávez: Bernie Sanders is wrong — Hugo Chávez was no dictator - Gabriel Hetland in Jacobin
  • 'Cashless’ Welfare Card Slammed - Xavier Smerdon, Pro Bono Australia: Quite apart from the inconvenience and indignity of this, the plan ignores the important role of welfare payments as "automatic stabilisers", boosting local demand when unemployment is high, which in principle should create more jobs. One can't imagine every corner shop, greengrocer, butcher, etc. in the country being whitelisted under this scheme, so it's mainly a gift to the supermarket duopoly.
  • I suppose I brought it all upon myself - Matthew Yglesias: "This is why thoughtful opponents of the welfare state have generally avoided making the argument that capitalism is good because it promotes human well-being. Since capitalism does promote human well-being, "capitalism promotes human well-being" sounds like a good argument in its favor. But it turns out that capitalism plus a large welfare state promotes human well-being even more. So you either need to embrace the welfare state (the correct answer) or come up with another justification of capitalism."
  • Exciting New Waterfront Development Planned For Mars - The Shovel: "Mars’s waterfront will be transformed into a world-class lifestyle, cultural, retail and commercial precinct. Announcing the new development today, the Mars City Council said the 25-hectare space would include a vibrant cultural hub, exciting mixed-use public spaces, and 45,000 apartments."
  • Seven everyday things poor people worry about that rich people never do - Carmen Rios, Everyday Feminism (who excel at clickbait titles): "Being poor means that every worry is secondary to money. It means that every experience is centered around money. It makes money, which is ironically something you possess little of in contrast to other people, more central to your everyday life than theirs."
  • Bombs Kill Shock - Craig Murray: "The spluttering fury by the establishment […] is revealing the existence of the moral dilemma to people from whom it has been effectively hidden as a topic of legitimate and serious debate. People will start to think. That is why Corbyn is so dangerous to the establishment. He has opened a Pandora’s box of ideas."
  • Corbyn's victory is the new political reality - beautifully written piece by Geoffrey Heptonstall at openDemocracy: "This century has proved to be a nightmare. Public discourse is trivialized. Culture is vulgarized. Social welfare is marketized. Education is reduced to training schemes. There is popular resistance, but in England [and I do mean England] it has only now come close to serious political realization."
  • Some post-school education bodies we could do without - John Quiggin: "But the real problem is the one I identified in the deregulation debacle. The VC groups claim to speak for universities, but exclude all but 40-odd of the people who work and study in them. In the present case, wouldn’t the perspectives of research students and the academics who supervise them be more useful than those of VCs and administrators? To repeat, we need to replace UA with a body that represents students and staff as well as top management."
  • Q&A: Can Corbyn revolutionise the financial sector and the Bank of England? - Anastasia Nesvetailova, openDemocracy: "During the crisis of 2007-09, the central banks on both sides of the Atlantic stepped in and played a role that they were not meant to. We are lucky that they did so. Against many economic dogmas, they were not simply lenders of last resort, they made the markets, as my colleague Perry Mehrling argues in his book New Lombard Street. They made the markets when liquidity vanished and when private participants, buyers and sellers, simply would not pick up the phone." TL;DR: Central bank independence has always been a fantasy, and banks that are too big to fail are too big to be privately-owned.
  • U.S. Bombs Somehow Keep Falling in the Places Where Obama “Ended Two Wars” - Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept: "How do you know when you’re an out-of-control empire? When you keep bombing and deploying soldiers in places where you boast that you’ve ended wars. How do you know you have a hackish propagandist for a president? When you celebrate him for “ending two wars” in the very same places that he keeps bombing." I wonder if "hackish" is a typo for "hawkish". Valid either way, though.

Sunday, 4 October 2015 - 8:08pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 04/10/2015 - 8:08pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes - Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed: "It turns out that college students are being well-prepared for their future careers -- at least in their own minds. Ask employers, and it's a very different picture." Is that the sound of a bubble bursting?
  • Don't believe the Corbyn bashers - the economic case against public ownership is mostly fantasy - Joe Guinan and Thomas M. Hanna, openDemocracy: "Corbyn is very much in line with recent trends around the world in which the fightback against neoliberal privatisation of public services has been accompanied by the adoption of innovative new approaches to collective ownership. In this view, worker ownership, consumer cooperatives, municipal enterprise and a host of kindred institutional forms all represent ways in which capital can be held in common by small and large publics, including through hybrid models that draw upon two or more institutional forms."
  • How Europe Crushed Greece - Yanis Varoufakis in the NYT: "Across the Continent, people are fed up with a monetary union that is inefficient because it is so profoundly undemocratic. This is why the battle for rescuing Greece has now turned into a battle for Europe’s integrity, soul, rationality and democracy. I plan to concentrate on helping set up a Pan-European political movement, inspired by the Athens Spring, that will work toward Europe’s democratization."
  • Dynamic Voodoo - Paul Krugman, NYT: Your graph porn for the week.
  • Real crisis in psychology isn’t that studies don’t replicate, but that we usually don’t even try - Huw Green of CUNY Graduate Center at the Conversation: And that nobody is willing to fund replication.
  • Doing the housing supply maths - Cameron K Murray: "If we want cheaper housing we need to reform legal structures to shift bargaining power to tenants from landlords, curb speculation through financial controls (and keep stamp duties!), and stop rewarding political parties who promise housing supply as any sort of solution to current prices. Unfortunately, very few people actually want housing to become more cheaper. Around 70% of households are homeowners, around 30% are property investors who come from the wealthier part of society, while most politicians also have a huge share of their wealth tied up in residential property. It suits all of these interests to point the finger at supply because they know it sounds attractive in a naive economy way, but won’t actually reduce the value of their housing portfolios."
  • Is it really Corbyn offering a "one party state"? - Oliver Huitson at openDemocracy: "The case for renationalisation is overwhelming. And it matters. It matters because it shows clearly what sort of country you are - one where the public can be routinely screwed for the profits of the few, or one where the public own key elements of infrastructure and operate it for their own benefit. Britain is the former. New Labour are champions of the former. The public want the latter. In simple terms, that is why Corbyn is winning."
  • Economists vs. Economics - Dani Rodrik, Project Syndicate: "Let us cherish economics in all its diversity – rational and behavioral, Keynesian and Classical, first-best and second-best, orthodox and heterodox – and devote our energy to becoming wiser at picking which framework to apply when." More generally, beware of theories of everything. There is no sensible explanation of the work of George Formby in the terms of thermodynamics, though the reverse is possibly valid, providing it had indeed "turned out nice again".
  • Japan’s Economy, Crippled by Caution - Paul Krugman, NYT: "After all, printing money to pay for stuff sounds irresponsible, because in normal times it is. And no matter how many times some of us try to explain that these are not normal times, that in a depressed, deflationary economy conventional fiscal prudence is dangerous folly, very few policy makers are willing to stick their necks out and break with convention."
  • FBI Director Claims Tor and the “Dark Web” Won’t Let Criminals Hide From His Agents - Dan Froomkin at the Intercept: "Cryptography expert Bruce Schneier said Comey’s statement should not be taken at face value. Given previous false public statements by intelligence officials, “the truth value is irrelevant,” he said. “We certainly know that Tor has been broken in the past” using specific exploits, he said. “Do they have a blanket attack? Or is it posturing? Who knows?” He added, “It’s certainly good posturing.”"
  • Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton Joke About Flooding Of Small Island Nations - Chris Graham, New Matilda: "DUTTON: Time doesn’t mean anything when you’re about to be, you know, have water lapping at your door. ABBOTT: (laughs) Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. MORRISON: There’s a boom (microphone) up there."
  • Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn - Craig Murray: "The first few weeks are key. Most Blairites are above all careerists. If they think Corbyn can carry through his personal dominance into control of policy and party mechanisms, then many of the Blairites will look at their constituency members and suddenly discover they had left-wing principles after all." Plus Billy Bragg can finally stop looking so shamefaced for the first time in twenty years.
  • An “Enormous Opportunity”: A Short, Awful 9/11 Quiz - Jon Schwarz at the Intercept: "For normal people, terrorism and wars are purely and only tragedies. [… And yet] before the bodies are cold, before the mothers and fathers have stopped shrieking, our leaders are thinking: This is really a fantastic opportunity."
  • What Candidates Talk About When They Talk About Inequality - Eric Alterman at the Nation: "The New York Times Magazine published an interview with the candidate in which Ana Marie Cox asked, “Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?” Sanders had to repeat the question to make sure he wasn’t hearing things, then felt it necessary to explain: “Ana, I don’t mean to be rude here. I am running for president of the United States on serious issues, OK? Do you have serious questions?” "
  • On German Moral Leadership - Yanis Varoufakis: "In [Kant's] mindset, the rational and the moral merge when we develop a capacity to act on the so-called categorical imperative: of acting in a universalisable manner independently of the consequences. For the hell of it, in plainer language. Taking refugees in is such a universalisable act. You do not take them in because of what you expect to gain. The fact that you may end up with great gains is irrelevant. The warm inner glow of having done the ‘right’ thing, the boost to aggregate demand, the effect on productivity – all these are great repercussions of one’s Kantian rationality. They are not, however, the motivation."
  • It's The Ideology, Stupid. And The Economy. - Ian McAuley at New Matilda: "Successive governments, particularly the Howard Government, have not dealt with emerging structural weaknesses – our trade dependence on too few commodities in too few markets, our unstable exchange rate, our growing regional disparities, our widening inequalities in wealth and income, our accumulating levels of foreign debt, our ramshackle transport and communication infrastructure, our distorted tax incentives favouring short-term speculation and rent-seeking over productive investment, our declining education standards, and, of course, our failure to deal with climate change."
  • 17 Biblical Rules for Marriage Kim Davis Should Really Take a Look At - Valerie Tarico, Alternet: Has the clickbait cycle come full circle again already? Yes, it's time to to dust off and repost that Biblical literalist listicle. Not that it will change anybody's mind; a true believer knows the Bible through faith and divine revelation, not careful study. A Bible's fer wavin', or fer swearin' awn, nawt fer readin'. "Leviticus is clear. Two men having sex is an abomination, just like eating shellfish, getting tattoos, shaving your beard, or wearing blend fabrics. (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, 11:9-12, 19:28, 19:27)" Mind you, there's …
  • The Same Hymn Sheet - George Monbiot: "Evangelical groups unite around a set of core convictions, overt, codified and non-negotiable. It would surely not be difficult to create a similar set, common to all progressive movements, built around empathy, kindness, forgiveness and self-worth. A set of immutable convictions might make our movements less capricious, while reinforcing the commonality between the left’s many causes."
  • Journalism in the age of Corbyn - Joe Sandler Clarke, openDemocracy: Good news, everyone. The people who said Corbyn couldn't win leadership are now saying he can't win a general election. "We should change what we see as the political beat. Journalists should be encouraged to escape Westminster. New ways must be found for funding local journalism, so reporters can cover the council meetings, small-scale protests and community events that shape the world most people live in."
  • The "Sharing Economy" Is Dead, And We Killed It - Sarah Kessler, Fast Company via Tom Slee: ""There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told the New York Times in a 2013 column about the sharing economy. "Does everyone really need their own drill?" There was just one problem. As Adam Berk, the founder of Neighborrow, puts it: "Everything made sense except that nobody gives a shit. They go buy [a drill]. Or they just bang a screwdriver through the wall.""
  • Corbyn can afford to sidestep the media but not their power - Des Freedman, openDemocracy: "Of course, Corbyn has actually been far from silent. He has taken his anti-austerity message up and down the country, hoping that his presence in front of tens of thousands of people at public meetings will generate the kind of buzz – online and offline – that is worth more than an interview with John Humphreys or Andrew Marr in which he is painted as the ‘extremist’ while they ask ‘probing’ questions about the ‘divisiveness’ of his ‘radical’ programme."
  • How Jeremy Corbyn Can Win - Richard Seymour at Jacobin: "Corbyn has said that his campaign is about turning the Labour Party into a social movement. That’s the only chance he and his supporters have."
  • Bernie Sanders Wants to Spend $18 Trillion: So What? - James Kwak: "At the end of the day, what matters isn’t the amount of money that the federal government spends for health care. What matters is the amount of money that the American people spend for health care. The government is just a device that we use to provide certain services that are better handled collectively than individually. If the government can provide equivalent service at lower prices, then the gross dollar amount involved doesn’t matter." And Joshua Holland at the Nation: "In other words, Sanders’s Medicare expansion would cost $15 trillion, but without it American businesses and taxpayers would spend $20 trillion over the same period, while still leaving millions uninsured."
  • Basic Income A No-Brainer For Remote Indigenous Australia - Jon Altman in New Matilda: "The time has come, as employment gaps for Indigenous Australians grow, to trial basic income as an alternative and objectively evaluate the outcomes – if such evidence-based policy making remains possible in today’s hyper-politicised policy environment where ideology seems to be the key factor in any assessment."
  • The Facebook of the Future Has Privacy Implications Today - Farai Chideya at the Intercept: A well-written summary of the state of play.
  • TSA Doesn’t Care That Its Luggage Locks Have Been Hacked - Jenna McLaughlin, the Intercept: "Although the actual impact remains unclear, the hacking of the master keys is a powerful example of the problem with creating government backdoors to bypass security, physically or digitally. Most security experts and computer scientists believe backdoors for law enforcement inevitably make systems less secure, and easier for bad actors to break into."

Sunday, 27 September 2015 - 1:06pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 27/09/2015 - 1:06pm in

This week, I have been mostly sleeping, and reading:

  • What Bernie Sanders Has Already Won - Dave Johnson at Campaign for America's Future: "Nobody expected to be actually talking about him being the nominee and all that. But whether he is or not, the discussion Sanders wanted HAS been triggered, and an amazing list of supporters now exists. Now there is the hope that he and we can build a movement out of it that lasts past this election."
  • Fuck Nuance - Keiran Healy: See also the interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. I freely admit that I'm struggling with identifying any consistent body of practices that distinguishes sociology from, say, social psychology, or history. I'm also not entirely sure it needs one. But there's certainly a rich and inexhaustible seam of discourse on the theme of UR DOIN' IT WRONG!
  • NYT Claims U.S. Abides by Cluster Bomb Treaty: The Exact Opposite of Reality - Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept: "For the NYT to tell its readers that the U.S. — one of the leading cluster bomb states on the planet — is actually one of the countries that “have not yet joined the treaty but have abided by its provisions” is nationalistic propaganda of the most extreme kind."
  • The Great Wealth Transfer to the London Elite - Craig Murray: "Now the brilliance of the trick is that, as it is labeled a benefit, the left fight to keep housing benefit as though it benefited poor people. In fact this is a great illusion. It does nothing of the sort. What would truly benefit poor people is lower rent or affordable homes. Housing benefit goes straight into the pockets of the landlord class." Welfare recipients aren't. Austudy, Newstart, whatever: all but a handful of change ends up with landlords.
  • Other People’s Dollars, and Their Place in Global Economics - Paul Krugman, NYT: "The Aussie dollar plays no special role in the world monetary system, yet Australia has consistently attracted bigger inflows of capital relative to the size of its economy — and run proportionately bigger trade deficits — than the United States. What’s important for both capital and trade, it turns out, is whether your economy offers good investment opportunities under an umbrella of legal and political stability. Whether you control an international currency is a trivial concern by comparison."
  • Some Rules for Teachers - Anne Boyer at The New Enquiry: Rule 12 applies to any public speaking, in my experience. "12. thoroughly prepare class, including making preparations to abandon your preparations entirely"
  • Quantitative Easing for People: The UK Labour Frontrunner’s Controversial Proposal - Ellen Brown: New rule. Nobody is allowed to cry "ZOMG! Zimbabwe!" while there is a single unemployed person, or a scintilla of unmet demand.
  • Why franchises care more about their coffee than their people - Ashlea Kellner et al. from Griffith University, in the Conversation: As Humphrey McQueen points out, the whole point of franchising is to finance expansion using other people's money. Just as the franchisor outsources cost and risk to the franchisee, so the franchisee offloads this burden on to their workers.
  • Joe Hockey’s unscripted moments of truth reveal what the Government really thinks - Warwick Smith for The Age: "When Hockey tells Sydneysiders to get a good, well-paying and secure job if they want to enter the property market, he is telling us what this government really thinks. If you don’t have a job that pays much better than the average wage then you don’t deserve to own your own home. If the best you can do with your life is be a teacher in a public school or a nurse or a waiter then you’re not worthy of his concern or interest. Get a better job, then come talk about your problems."
  • The Art of Capital Flight - Ken Rogoff at Project Syndicate: "Just five months ago, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, told an audience in Singapore that contemporary art has become one of the two most important stores of wealth internationally, along with apartments in major cities such as New York, London, and Vancouver. Forget gold as an inflation hedge; buy paintings." I used to know a Coffs-old-money scumbag who would boast about his Norman Lindsay prints. The money value of them, that is; not any intrinsic virtues. The sad empty lives some people lead…
  • 99 percent Utopia and money - Branko Milanovic and insomnia give us an interesting thought experiment: "So, there is, I think, already now a limited, but growing, number of goods and services whose marginal cost of production is so low that they are practically free. (The average cost of production is not zero, but to an individual consumer these goods appear as free.) Consider now the behavior of people. Do they go to Starbucks stores and fill their pockets with free paper napkins or grab free ice cubes? No. Do they go to free open-air concerts day after day and fight for the spots? No. Once you know that such goods will be plentiful and free, you do not keep an unreasonable stock of them, nor do you fight to get them. You know they will be around when you need them."
  • Range of reactions to realism about the social world - Daniel Little: "And what about the concept of a market itself? Can we understand this concept realistically? Do markets really exist? Maybe the most we can say is something like this: there are many social settings where stuff is produced and exchanged. When exchange is solely or primarily governed by the individual self-interest of the buyers and sellers, we can say that a market exists. But we must also be careful to add that there are many different institutional and social settings where this condition is satisfied, so there is great variation across the particular "market settings" of different societies and communities. As a result, we need to be careful not to reify the concept of a market across all settings."
  • Why Bernie Sanders Should Add a Job Guarantee to His Policy Agenda - Pavlina Tchernerva at NEP: I can't remember if I saw this a month ago when it first came out. It deserves multiple mentions anyway, as it's a terrific summary of the arguments for government as employer of last resort. "The private sector is simply not in the business of satisfying unmet basic needs or providing employment for everyone. But once most basic needs are met, will there be enough work for the JG participants to do? I’m convinced, yes. As Warren Mosler says, “There is no limit to the ways we can serve one another”. My worry is that even if we mobilized everyone who wanted to work in a private and public initiative, there would still not be enough manpower to do all the things that we sorely need—especially concerning the environment."
  • And the Winner is (should be)…. Fiscal Policy! - Francesco Saraceno: "In a liquidity trap the propensity to hoard of the private sector becomes virtually unlimited, so that monetary policy (be it conventional or unconventional) loses traction. It is true that the age of great moderation, and three decades of almighty central bankers had made the concept fade into oblivion. But, since 2008 we were forced to reconsider the effectiveness of monetary policy at the so-called zero lower bound.Or at least we should have…"
  • Economics in Two Lessons: Income Distribution - John Quiggin: "For a very poor person, an additional hundred dollars could mean the difference between eating and not eating. For someone slightly better off, it may mean the difference between paying the rent and being evicted. For a middle class family, it might allow an unexpected luxury purchase. For someone on a million dollars a year, it would barely be noticed." And Rawlsian fiscal policy has an unlikely champion:
  • Trump Is Right on Economics - Paul Krugman: "Mr. Bush has chosen to attack Mr. Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the G.O.P. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr. Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong."
  • The Usual Warmongers - Craig Murray: "Bombs are entirely agnostic over who they kill, and have not made life notably better for the population. Yet the news media are now insistently beating the drum for British bombing in Syria. Who should be bombed exactly – ISIL or Assad – appears unimportant, so long as there is bombing. Indeed, the Murdoch Sky News, the Mail and the Blairites are contriving to build a narrative that Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP and bleeding hearts like myself are responsible for the death of little Aylan and hundreds like him, by unreasonable and inhuman opposition to a bit more bombing."
  • Fed Up with the Fed - Joe Stiglitz at Project Syndicate: "The “jobs gap” – the difference between today’s employment and what it should be – is some three million. With so many people out of work, downward pressure on wages is showing up in official statistics as well. So far this year, real wages for non-supervisory workers fell by nearly 0.5%. This is part of a long-term trend that explains why household incomes in the middle of the distribution are lower than they were a quarter-century ago. "
  • Taking Corbynomics Seriously - Robert Skidelsky at Project Syndicate: "Under conventional quantitative easing (QE), the central bank buys government securities from banks or corporations and relies on the extra cash that it “prints” to stimulate private spending. But studies suggest that much of this money goes into speculative activity, risking asset bubbles, rather than being channeled into productive investment. An alternative would be to distribute the central bank’s newly issued money directly to housing associations, local councils, or national or regional investment banks – any organization that could carry out infrastructure projects. This is what Corbyn proposes. "
  • The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the ‘Do Something’ Lie - Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: "While there’s no doubt many of the refugees are escaping Assad’s bombing of cities, the boy in question, Aylan Kurdi, wasn’t: He was escaping ISIS and the US bombing of his hometown of Kobani, far from anything the Assad government is doing. A no-fly zone would not have saved his hometown. An absence of fueling jihadists by the United States and the subsequent bombing of said jihadists by the United States? Perhaps."
  • Kickstarter Focuses Its Mission on Altruism Over Profit - Mike Isaac and David Gelles, NYT: "Public benefit corporations are a relatively new designation that has been signed into law by a number of states. Delaware, where Kickstarter is reincorporating, began allowing public benefit corporations in 2013. Under the designation, companies must aim to do something that would aid the public (such as Kickstarter’s mission to “help bring creative projects to life”) and include that goal in their corporate charter. Board members must also take that public benefit into account when making decisions, and the company has to report on its social impact."
  • School questioned Muslim pupil about Isis after discussion on eco-activism - Vikram Dodd in the Guardian: "In a response to the legal action, Central Foundation school said it should be dismissed. According to legal documents related to the case it added: “It is unarguable that at the relevant time (May 2015) the school was required as part of its safeguarding responsibilities to be aware of the dangers of radicalisation. […] The school added: “This safeguarding step can not be criticised, as the school had due regard to its overarching duty to safeguard pupils and the need to prevent them being drawn into terrorism.”"
  • Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet - Jim Dwyer, NYT: "“Proprietary software is an unsafe building material,” Mr. Moglen had said. “You can’t inspect it.” That was five years ago. On Tuesday, Volkswagen admitted it had rigged the proprietary software on 11 million of its diesel cars around the world so that they would pass emissions tests when they were actually spreading smog."
  • How Much of Your Audience is Fake? Marketers thought the Web would allow perfectly targeted ads. Hasn’t worked out that way. - Ben Elgin, Michael Riley, David Kocieniewski, and Joshua Brustein at Bloomberg: Nothing we didn't already know, and to be honest I didn't even read more than half of it, but a useful link to send the next entrepreneur you meet who talks about "clicks", "landing pages", and "conversion rates".

Sunday, 20 September 2015 - 9:29am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 20/09/2015 - 9:29am in

This week, I have been mostly half-heartedly finishing another academic term, while reading:

  • Joseph Stiglitz: “Deep-seatedly wrong” economic thinking is killing Greece - Lynn Parramore, Institute for New Economic Thinking: The common observation that the problem with Europe is economic union without political union is not strictly true. It's that economic union has been used to impose a kind of political union that would never have been accepted through a democratic process.
  • The ‘flipped classroom’ is professional suicide - The never less than brilliant Jonathan Rees at the Daily Dot: "As Leslie Madsen-Brooks of Boise State University concluded after her school began capturing classroom lectures and posting them to iTunes: “In an age where people seem to think that education is just a matter of ‘delivering content’ that translates into mad workplace skillz, I’m uneasy about providing the university with any multimedia content that could be aggregated into a enormous-enrollment course taught by a grossly underpaid and underinsured Ph.D.”"
  • The MOOC revolution that wasn’t - The Daily Dot have also snaffled the always-brilliant Audrey Watters: "Rather than education for all, MOOCs now merely promise education for employability. This new narrative, according to George Siemens, one of the originators of the MOOC concept, casts education as simply skills training—a far cry from President Lyndon Johnson’s description, 40 years ago, of higher education as “a way to deeper personal fulfillment, greater personal productivity, and increased personal reward.”"
  • Two real-life accounts of the effect of benefits sanctions - Peter Dwyer at the Conversation: Irritable Duncan Syndrome is caught out making up qualitative evidence in favour of punitive anti-welfare. Meanwhile non-fictional people suffer.
  • Email from a Married, Female Ashley Madison User - Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept points out that it's complicated: "The private lives and sexual choices of fully formed adults are usually very complicated and thus impossible to understand — and certainly impossible to judge — without wallowing around in the most intimate details, none of which are any of your business. That’s a very good reason not to try to sit in judgment and condemn from afar."
  • DIY Tractor Repair Runs Afoul Of Copyright Law - Laura Sydell, NPR's All Things Considered: "[…] the little computer screen lets him know when something is wrong. Unfortunately, Alford isn't allowed to fix it. John Deere has a digital lock on the software that runs his tractor. And it won't give him the key. If something goes wrong with one of his tractors Alford has to take it to an authorized John Deere dealer — the closest one is about 40 miles away — or a John Deere rep has to come visit him."
  • Data is not an asset, it’s a liability - Marko Karppinen at something called Richie that makes "app components": "If you work in software development, sooner or later you learn that code is a liability — all things being equal, the less code you have, the better off you are." Yup. "You can’t expect the value of data to just appear out of thin air. Data isn’t fissile material. It doesn’t spontaneously reach critical mass and start producing insights." But it produces graphs. Stupid people love graphs. Stupid people in positions of authority really love graphs. I don't think you fully understand the app maker's job. It's not your business to produce the emperor's new clothes; it's your job to praise them.
  • Writing, Typing, and Economics - JK Galbraith the Elder, writing in 1978 for the Atlantic: "[…] because the real world is so funny, there is almost nothing you can do, short of labeling a joke a joke, to keep people from taking it seriously. A few years ago in Harper's I invented the theory that socialism in our time was the result of our dangerous addiction to team sports. The ethic of the team is all wrong for free enterprise. The code words are cooperation; team spirit; accept leadership; the coach is always right. Authoritarianism is sanctified; the individualist is a poor team player, a menace. All this our vulnerable adolescents learn. I announced the formation of an Organization to combat this deadly trend and to promote boxing and track instead. I called it the C.I.A. — Congress for Individualist Athletics. Hundreds wrote in to Harper's asking to join."
  • The UK Hits Moral Rock Bottom - Craig Murray: "On the day that it is revealed that 2,380 people in three years died within 14 days of being declared fit to work by an ATOS assessment and having benefit stopped, we also have 45 of the most appalling members of the political class elevated to trough it for life in the House of Lords, at a possible cost to the taxpayer of 67,500 pounds per week in attendance allowances alone."
  • The Way GCHQ Obliterated The Guardian’s Laptops May Have Revealed More Than It Intended - Jenna McLaughlin at the Intercept: "The track pad controller, they said, can hold up to 2 megabits of memory. All the different “chips” in your computer — from the part that controls the device’s power to the chips in the keyboard — also have the capacity to store information, like passwords and keys to other data, which can be uploaded through firmware updates. According to the public documents from other members of Five Eyes, it is incredibly difficult to completely sanitize a device of all its content."
  • Tortured in Guantánamo, Uncharged Prisoner Details a US-Created Hell - excerpt from Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi: '"What terrorist organizations are you part of?" "None!" I replied. He put back the bag on my head and started a long discourse of humiliation, cursing, lies, and threats. I don't really remember it all, nor am I ready to sift in my memory for such bullshit. I was so tired and hurt, and tried to sit but he forced me back. I cried from the pain. Yes, a man my age cried silently. I just couldn't bear the agony.'
  • I don’t teach critical thinking, I teach the material - Fabio Rojas at orgtheory.net: "Obtaining truth is hard and there is no magical form of thinking called “critical thinking” that can be separated from specific domains. Aside from a very simple general rules of thumb, such as “don’t be emotional in arguing” or “show my your evidence,” the best way to be improve your thinking is to learn from those who have spent a lifetime actually trying to figure out specific problems." An ontological excision long overdue.
  • Homes for the homeless - Suzie Cagle in Aeon: "The Housing First philosophy was first piloted in Los Angeles in 1988 by the social worker Tanya Tull, and later tested and codified by the psychiatrist Sam Tsemberis of New York University. It is predicated on a radical and deeply un-American notion that housing is a right. Instead of first demanding that they get jobs and enroll in treatment programmes, or that they live in a shelter before they can apply for their own apartments, government and aid groups simply give the homeless homes."
  • All our needs are social - Branko Milanovic: " We are social beings. It was stated by Adam Smith very nicely that our needs vary in function of what we consider to be socially acceptable. In a much quoted passage, Smith contrasts a man living in a relatively poor society who is content with a roughly-hewn shirt and another one, living in a richer society, who would be ashamed to be seen in public without a linen shirt. Smith was drawing on his own experience, having observed how what is socially acceptable, i.e., what are our “needs”, has changed in his own lifetime as England and Scotland had become richer. "
  • The case for realism in the social realm - Daniel Little: "In short, the social sciences do not possess the remarkable coherence and predictive accuracy of physics, so confidence in realism is not grounded in the high level of success of the enterprise. Sociology is not like physics. But equally, the concepts of the social sciences are not "hypothetical constructs" that depend upon their role in a developed theoretical system for application. It is therefore possible to be piecemeal realists. Again, sociology is not like physics." But: …
  • Live from Yellowstone Lake Lodge: WTF!? - Brad DeLong: "But if you ask physicists whether the entities of Einstein's theory are really there, they will say: "Of course not: Those entities do not satisfy the quantum principle.[…]" There is something there. But just because your theory is good does not mean that the entities in your theory are "really there", whatever that might mean..." Which gets back to Chomsky's point that no scientist since Aristotle has tried to "explain" anything. We've been modeling things, with varying degrees of fidelity.

  • - Clay Bennett in Truthdig
  • Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece - Michael Hudson in CounterPunch: "The tragic Greek experience should stand as a warning of the need to withdraw from the rules that have turned the eurozone into an economic dead zone, and the IMF and Troika into brutal debt collectors for European, U.S. and British banks and bondholders. This is not a story that the mainstream press is happy to popularize."
  • SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF THE BODY: The nipple - Todd Beer: "The social construction of the body may be hard for some students to understand because so much of the body seems to be tied to biology. How we treat nipples depending on who’s body they are attached to demonstrates the power of society." Listen to Beer. Free the nipple; it rhymes with tipple.

Sunday, 13 September 2015 - 9:06pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 13/09/2015 - 9:06pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Why The Ted Rall LA Times Scandal Matters [legal analysis] - Tom Ewing at aNewDomain: "In the absence of any real evidence whatsoever and by the Times own description of what happened, here’s one possible conclusion: The LAPD simply asked the Times to fire Ted."
    On July 27, 2015, the Los Angeles Times fired me as its long-time editorial cartoonist. The reason given was their belief, based on a secret LAPD audiotape of my 2001 arrest for jaywalking, that I lied about my treatment by the police officer in a May 11, 2015 blog for the Times. However, when I had the tape enhanced and cleaned up, it proved I'd told the truth. So why won't the Times comment or admit they were wrong?
  • Curator of the Future - George Monbiot: "The middle ground is a magic mountain that retreats as you approach. The more you chase it from the left, the further to the right it moves. […] Nothing was more politically inept than Labour’s attempt before the election to win back UKIP supporters by hardening its stance on immigration. Why vote for the echo when you can vote for the shout?"
  • Nanny state submission - Cameron K Murray: "[…] it is not clear that “sin taxes” on alcohol are an effective way to change the binge drinking culture, and in fact might have the opposite effect. Those who choose to drink alcohol may change their patterns of consumption to only drink to get drunk. Why pay so much for alcohol unless you are going to get drunk?"
  • Whistleblower Says Asylum Seekers Waterboarded And Zip Tied By "Thug-Like" Guards On Nauru - Max Chalmers, New Matilda: "I’ve seen members of the [Wilson] Emergency Response Team exit tents and later I’ve seen asylum seekers come out of these tents, come out of them covered in water, coughing."
  • The great Labour purge is underway - Michael Chessum, openDemocracy: "One post currently doing the rounds on Facebook states: “If you know that someone who has recently signed up as a member, supporter or affiliate, who is not in fact a supporter of the Labour party, you should email their name to leadership2015@labour.org.uk with proof.” The post concludes: “Please do report anyone you suspect should be ineligible – and you too could be called a star by the Compliance Unit”."
  • Neoliberal epidemics: the spread of austerity, obesity, stress and inequality - Ted Schrecker and Clare Bambra of Durham University, in The Conversation: "Focusing on the social determinants of health – the conditions of life and work that make it relatively easy for some people to lead long and healthy lives, while it is all but impossible for others – we show that there are four interconnected neoliberal epidemics: austerity, obesity, stress, and inequality. They are neoliberal because they are associated with or worsened by neoliberal policies. They are epidemics because they are observable on such an international scale and have been transmitted so quickly across time and space that if they were biological contagions they would be seen as of epidemic proportions."
  • But What’s It Really For? - Robert DiNapoli in Arena: "The very thought of tax revenues being lavished on education as a species of social investment long ago lost all credibility, and as a result universities have faced a perfect storm of budgetary axes falling faster and harder than those that split the skulls of the monks of Lindisfarne when the Vikings came knocking in the eighth century. The managers and education ministers who wrought this have possessed about as much feel for the real dynamics of teaching and learning as those Vikings did for the texts they ripped from the gospel books whose gem- and gold-encrusted covers they coveted. The pages that carried those texts’ real, living purpose they chucked into a convenient bog on their way back to their ships. Efficiency rules, for plunderer and executive alike."
  • Greece is for sale – and everything must go, Nick Deardon, openDemocracy: "The beneficiaries are corporations from around the world, though eyebrows are particularly being raised at the number of European companies – from German airport operators and phone companies to French railways – who are getting their hands on Greece’s economy. Not to mention the European investment banks and legal firms who are making a fast buck along the way. The self-interest of European governments in forcing these policies on Greece leaves a particularly unpleasant flavour."
  • Three-word slogans have left Abbott with an economic quandary - John Quiggin for the Drum: "Let's start with "debt and deficits". The Gillard government handed this issue to Abbott on a plate, with Treasurer Wayne Swan's obsessive pursuit of an essentially meaningless return to budget surplus. The rhetoric surrounding this goal made it impossible for Labor to defend its successful use of deficits to stimulate the economy at the time of the Global Financial Crisis. The result was that a government that had outperformed the entire developed world in terms of economic management was presented, and presented itself, as a set of wasteful spendthrifts."
  • War and technological progress - John Quiggin again: "Opportunity cost reasoning leads us to ask what was foregone to release the [scientific and technological] resources [for war work]. In large part, the answer is ‘research of the kind that made these developments possible’. War gives great urgency to the “D” part of R&D, at the expense of R."
  • Fairy Tales - Krugman at The Paper of Record: "As Mike Konczal, channeling Kalecki, pointed out some time ago, arguments rejecting Keynes and declaring that only business confidence can achieve full employment serve a very useful political purpose: they empower plutocrats and big business, while rendering populists impotent."
  • Techno-optimism & low investment - Chris Dillow: "If you spend £10m installing robots in a factory today you might be able to undercut your non-robotized rivals. But if a new company later installs better robots for £5m, it will undercut you and destroy your profits. […] This is true not just of process innovation but product innovation too. For example, Nokia benefited hugely from the first wave of innovation in mobile phones, but suffered hugely from the later wave which gave us the smartphone. "
  • Did socialism keep capitalism equal? - Branko Milanovic: "The implication is of course rather unpleasant: left to itself, without any countervailing powers, capitalism will keep on generating high inequality and so the US may soon look like South Africa."
  • "Don't Owe. Won't Pay." Everything You've Been Told About Debt Is Wrong - Charles Eisenstein at Truthout: "Positive money refers to money created directly without debt by the government, which can be given directly to debtors for debt repayment or used to purchase debts from creditors and then cancel them. Negative-interest currency (which I describe in depth in Sacred Economics) entails a liquidity fee on bank reserves, essentially taxing wealth at its source. It enables zero-interest lending, reduces wealth concentration, and allows a financial system to function in the absence of growth."
  • The Upsurge in Uncertain Work - Robert Reich on the precariat: "On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours. […] It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us."

Sunday, 6 September 2015 - 4:07pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 06/09/2015 - 4:07pm in

This week, I have been alternately scrambling about in a mad panic and hiding under a rock in a state of denial. While there, I was mostly reading:

Sunday, 30 August 2015 - 9:25am

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 30/08/2015 - 9:25am in

This week , I have been mostly reading:

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