Sunday, 3 September 2017 - 6:28pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 03/09/2017 - 6:28pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Review of Steve Keen’s “Can we avoid another financial crisis?” — Michael Hudson: Mainstream models are unable to forecast or explain a depression. That is because depressions are essentially financial in character. The business cycle itself is a financial cycle – that is, a cycle of the buildup and collapse of debt. Keen’s “Minsky” model traces this to what he has called “endogenous money creation,” that is, bank credit mainly to buyers of real estate, companies and other assets. He recently suggested a more catchy moniker: “Bank Originated Money and Debt” (BOMD). That seems easier to remember.
  • Education Can’t Fix Poverty. So Why Keep Insisting that It Can? — Jennifer Berkshire interviews Harvey Kantor in the Have You Heard blog: One of the consequences of making education so central to social policy has been that we’ve ended up taking the pressure off of the state for the kinds of policies that would be more effective at addressing poverty and economic inequality. Instead we’re asking education to do things it can’t possibly do. The result has been increasing support for the kinds of market-oriented policies that make inequality worse.
  • Three radical ideas to transform the post-crisis economy — Martin Sanbu in the AFR: If private management of the money supply is a recipe for instability, the radical alternative is to nationalise the money supply. This is do-able today: central banks can offer accounts to all members of the public (or make central bank reserves available to everyone). Banks could be restricted to allocating existing savings to investments, rather than creating new credit. Another imperative is that of economic security. Previous radicals created safety nets where none existed. Today we have ample welfare states, but they still leave large groups in precarious conditions. Sometimes they trap them there, as generous benefits for low earners are withdrawn with rising incomes, creating prohibitive effective marginal tax rates for the modestly paid. The radical solution is a universal basic income, the proposal to pay an unconditional benefit to all citizens, financed by tax rises. The idea is rediscovered by every other generation; the time to put it into practice may now have come.
  • Can Trump Deliver on Growth? — James K. Galbraith in Dissent Magazine: As things stand, the financial sector neither serves a public purpose nor does it deliver the growth it once did, until it broke down nine years ago. While there are people who feel obliged to borrow, and there will always be new generations of suckers, boom-and-bust banking credit isn’t a viable model for growth any more. What should be done about the banks? These are institutions with high fixed costs and with technologies and transnational legal structures that are designed to facilitate tax evasion and regulatory arbitrage. They face very limited prospects for sustained profitability in activities that correspond to social need. Their entire structure isn’t viable in a world of slow growth, except by fostering short-lived booms (of which the shale rush was the most recent example), followed by busts and bailouts. In short, the financial sector as a whole is a luxury we cannot afford.
  • Savings are an Export Product — Neil Wilson: Foreign entities are holding your currency as savings. Similarly, financial products denominated in your currency are held as savings. Savings are, in effect, an export product of your currency area. Once you look at it this way, then savings are very similar to a barrel of oil in stock, or an aircraft engine. If your country relies upon oil exports and people stop wanting oil then you may have a problem. If you rely on aircraft engine exports and there are no orders for new aircraft, you may have a problem. If you rely upon people taking your savings (because they had an export-led policy — which implies a savings-import policy) and that changes (the export-led policy moves to a domestic-led policy, as we’re starting to see in China) then you may have a problem.
  • The University Does Not Think — Simon Cooper in Arena: If we look at the various levels of university activity, from undergraduate teaching to academic research, to the relationship between the university and the wider social realm, it becomes quickly apparent how the university has been captured by instrumental logic since the expansion of the system in the 1980s. The increasing dominance of knowledge as a commodity (as opposed to other modalities of knowledge—critique, interpretation, wisdom and so forth) has played out across various domains. Starting with undergraduate education, we can see how the introduction of fees and debt systems creates a shift around the meaning of education towards a more narrowly instrumental one for both the student and the institution. As G. L. Williams remarks, ‘students have been metamorphosed from apprentices into customers and their teachers from master craftsmen to merchants’. University education as vocational training has become an increasingly central way of framing the student’s relation to knowledge, with a consequent decline in less ‘market-friendly’ subjects. The atrophy of the pure sciences, philosophy, social theory, literature etc. within many tertiary institutions is well established. In some cases, humanities departments have closed, replaced by ‘creative industries’ centres whose rationale is to marketise skills generated by an applied-humanities model, discarding all others.
  • The Rock-Star Appeal of Modern Monetary Theory — Atossa Araxia Abrahamian at the Nation: According to this small but increasingly vocal cohort of economists, including Bernie Sanders’s former chief economic adviser, once we change the way we think about money, we can provide for everyone: We don’t have to “find” the money to “pay” for universal health care by “cutting” the budget elsewhere. In fact, our government already works that way: Spending must precede taxation, or there would be no dollars in the economy to tax. It’s the political will to spend on certain things, not the money to afford it, that’s lacking.
  • Immiseration Revisited: The four phases of working time — Sandwichman at Angry Bear: The four phases of working time can be labeled cooperation, exploitation, immiseration and ruin. The incentive for employers is to progress inexorably toward the last phase unless regulated by legislation or collective bargaining.[…] In conclusion, yes, there is a neo-classical immiseration theory. The economists who propounded it apparently were unaware that it was such a theory. By extension, that immiseration theory is a crisis theory. There is no built-in mechanism of negative feedback from prices that militates against the passage from the immiseration phase to the ruin phase. Hicks assumed that a “very moderate degree of rationality on the part of employers will thus lead them to reduce hours to the output optimum as soon as Trade Unionism has to be reckoned with at all seriously [emphasis added].” But by the time exploitation has progressed to the immiseration phase, trade unionism doesn’t have to be “reckoned with at all seriously” by employers.
  • What is human capital? — Peter Fleming in Aeon Essays: Friedman had discovered in human capital theory more than just a means for boosting economic growth. The very way it conceptualised human beings was an ideological weapon too, especially when it came to counteracting the labour-centric discourse of communism, both outside and inside the US. For doesn’t human capital theory provide the ultimate conservative retort to the Marxist slogan that workers should seize the means of production? If each person is already his own means of production, then the presumed conflict at the heart of the capitalist labour process logically dissolves. Schultz too was starting to see the light, and agreed that workers might actually be de facto capitalists: ‘labourers have become capitalists not from the diffusion of the ownership of corporation stocks, as folk law would have it, but from the acquisition of knowledge and skill that have economic value.’