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Orion Magazine | No Man's Land
"In 1500, no one sold land because no one owned it. People in the past did, however, claim and control territory in a variety of ways. Groups of hunters and later villages of herders or farmers found means of taking what they needed while leaving the larger landscape for others to glean from. They certainly fought over the richest hunting grounds and most fertile valleys, but they justified their right by their active use. In other words, they asserted rights of appropriation. We appropriate all the time. We conquer parking spaces at the grocery store, for example, and hold them until we are ready to give them up. The parking spaces do not become ours to keep; the basis of our right to occupy them is that we occupy them. Only until very recently, humans inhabited the niches and environments of Earth somewhat like parking spaces.

Ownership is different from appropriation. It confers exclusive rights derived from and enforced by the state. These rights do not come from active use or occupancy. Property owners can neglect land for years, waiting for the best time to sell it, even if others would put it to better use. And in the absence of laws protecting landscapes, the holders of legal title can mow down a rainforest or drain a wetland without regard to social and ecological cost. Not all owners are destructive or irresponsible, but the imperative to seek maximum profit is built into the assumptions within private property. Land that costs money must make money.

Champions of capitalism don’t see private property as a social practice with a history but as a universal desire—a nearly physical law—that amounts to the very expression of freedom. The economist Friedrich Hayek called it “the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.” But Hayek never explained how buyers and sellers of real estate spread a blanket of liberty over their tenants. And he never mentioned the fact that the concept, far from being natural law, was created by nation-states—the notion that someone could claim a bit of the planet all to himself is relatively new.

Every social system falls into contradictions, opposing or inconsistent aspects within its assumptions that have no clear resolution. These can be managed or put off, but some of them are serious enough to undermine the entire system. In the case of private property, there are at least two—and they may throw the very essence of capitalism into illegitimacy."



"Private property’s second contradiction comes from the odd notion that land is a commodity, which is anything produced by human labor and intended for exchange. Land violates the first category, but what about the second? As the historian Karl Polanyi wrote, land is just another name for nature. It’s the essence of human survival. To regard it as an item for exchange “means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.”

Clearly, though, we regard land as a commodity and this seems natural to us. Yet it represents an astonishing revolution in human perception. Real estate is a legal abstraction that we project over ecological space. It allows us to pretend that a thousand acres for sale off some freeway is not part of the breathing, slithering lattice of nonhuman stakeholders. Extending the surveyor’s grid over North America transformed mountain hollows and desert valleys into exchangeable units that became farms, factories, and suburbs. The grid has entered our brains, too: thinking, dealing, and making a living on real estate habituates us to seeing the biosphere as little more than a series of opportunities for moneymaking. Private property isn’t just a legal idea; it’s the basis of a social system that constructs environments and identities in its image.

Advocates of private property usually fail to point out all the ways it does not serve the greater good. Adam Smith famously believed that self-interested market exchange improves everything, but he really offered little more than that hope. He could not have imagined mountains bulldozed and dumped into creeks. He could not have imagined Camden, New Jersey, and other urban sacrifice zones, established by corporations and then abandoned by them. Maximum profit is the singular, monolithic interest at the heart of private property. Only the public can represent all the other human and nonhuman interests.

Unbelievably, perhaps, the United States Congress has done this. Consider one of its greatest achievements: the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973. The act nails the abstraction of real estate to the ground. When a conglomerate of California developers proposed a phalanx of suburbs across part of the Central Valley, they came face to face with their nemesis: the vernal pool fairy shrimp. In 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the shrimp’s status as endangered and blocked construction. It was a case in which the ESA diminished the sacred rights to property for the sake of tiny invertebrates, leaving critics of the law dumbfounded. But those who would repeal the ESA (and all the other environmental legislation of the 1970s) don’t appreciate the contradiction it helps a little to contain: the compulsion to derive endless wealth from a muddy, mossy planet."



"Should private property itself be extinguished? It’s a legitimate question, but there is no clear pathway to a system that would take its place, which could amount to some kind of global commons. Instead I suggest land reform, not the extinguishing of property rights but their radical diffusion. Imagine a space in which people own small homes and gardens but share a larger area of fields and woods. Let’s call such legislation the American Commons Communities Act or the Agrarian Economy Act. A policy of this sort might offer education in sustainable agriculture keyed to acquiring a workable farm in a rural or urban landscape. The United States would further invest in any infrastructure necessary to move crops to markets.

Let’s give abandoned buildings, storefronts, and warehouses to those who would establish communities for the homeless. According to one estimate, there are ten vacant homes for every homeless person. Squatting in unused buildings carries certain social benefits that should be recognized. It prevents the homeless from seeking out the suburban fringe, far from transportation and jobs (though it’s no substitute for dignified public housing). Plenty of people are now planting seeds in derelict city lots. In Los Angeles, an activist named Ron Finley looks for weedy ground anywhere he can find it for what he calls “gangsta gardening,” often challenging absentee owners. In 2013, the California legislature responded to sustained pressure from urban gardeners like Finley and passed the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, which gives tax breaks to any owner who allows vacant land to be used for “sustainable urban farm enterprise.”

Squatting raises another, much larger question. To what extent should improvements to land qualify one for property rights? The suppression of traditional privileges of appropriation amounts to one of the most revolutionary changes in the last five hundred years. All through the centuries people who worked land they did not own (like squatters and slaves) insisted that their toil granted them title. The United States once endorsed this view. The Homestead Act of 1862 granted 160 acres to any farmer who improved it for five years. Western squatters’ clubs and local preemption laws also endorsed the idea that labor in the earth conferred ownership.

It’s worth remembering that there is nothing about private property that says it must be for private use. Conservation land trusts own vast areas as nonprofit corporations and invite the public to hike and bike. It’s not an erosion of the institution of property but an ingenious reversal of its beneficiaries. But don’t wait for a land trust to be established before you enjoy the fenced up beaches or forests near where you live. Declare the absentee owners trustees of the public good and trespass at will. As long as the land in question is not someone’s home or place of business, signs that say KEEP OUT can, in my view, be morally and ethically ignored. Cross over these boundaries while humming “This Land Is Your Land.” Pick wildflowers, watch sand crabs in the surf, linger on your estate. Violating absentee ownership is a long-held and honorable tradition."
2016  onwership  capitalism  land  friedrichhayek  stevenstoll  squatting  property  socialpractice  socialsystems  privateproperty  homeless  homelessness  ronfinley  farming  gardening  agriculture  commodities  markets  adamsmith  us  law  legal  society  karlpolanyi  enclosure 
march 2016 by robertogreco
How textiles revolutionised technology – Virginia Postrel – Aeon
"Older than bronze and as new as nanowires, textiles are technology — and they have remade our world time and again"

"In February 1939, Vogue ran a major feature on the fashions of the future. Inspired by the soon-to-open New York World’s Fair, the magazine asked nine industrial designers to imagine what the people of ‘a far Tomorrow’ might wear and why. (The editors deemed fashion designers too of-the-moment for such speculations.) A mock‑up of each outfit was manufactured and photographed for a lavish nine-page colour spread.

You might have seen some of the results online: an evening dress with a see-through net top and strategically placed swirls of gold braid, for instance, or a baggy men’s jumpsuit with a utility belt and halo antenna. Bloggers periodically rediscover a British newsreel of models demonstrating the outfits while a campy narrator (‘Oh, swish!’) makes laboured jokes. The silly get‑ups are always good for self-satisfied smirks. What dopes those old-time prognosticators were!

The ridicule is unfair. Anticipating climate-controlled interiors, greater nudity, more athleticism, more travel and simpler wardrobes, the designers actually got a lot of trends right. Besides, the mock‑ups don’t reveal what really made the predicted fashions futuristic. Looking only at the pictures, you can’t detect the most prominent technological theme.

‘The important improvements and innovations in clothes for the World of Tomorrow will be in the fabrics themselves,’ declared Raymond Loewy, one of the Vogue contributors. His fellow visionaries agreed. Every single one talked about textile advances. Many of their designs specified yet-to-be-invented materials that could adjust to temperature, change colour or be crushed into suitcases without wrinkling. Without exception, everyone foretelling the ‘World of Tomorrow’ believed that an exciting future meant innovative new fabrics.

They all understood something we’ve largely forgotten: that textiles are technology, more ancient than bronze and as contemporary as nanowires. We hairless apes co-evolved with our apparel. But, to reverse Arthur C Clarke’s adage, any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. It seems intuitive, obvious – so woven into the fabric of our lives that we take it for granted.

We drag out heirloom metaphors – ‘on tenterhooks’, ‘tow-headed’, ‘frazzled’ – with no idea that we’re talking about fabric and fibres. We repeat threadbare clichés: ‘whole cloth’, ‘hanging by a thread’, ‘dyed in the wool’. We catch airline shuttles, weave through traffic, follow comment threads. We talk of lifespans and spin‑offs and never wonder why drawing out fibres and twirling them into thread looms so large in our language."



"As late as the 1970s, textiles still enjoyed the aura of science. Since then, however, we’ve stopped thinking of them as a technical achievement. In today’s popular imagination, fabric entirely belongs to the frivolous world of fashion. Even in the pages of Vogue, ‘wearable technology’ means electronic gadgets awkwardly tricked out as accessories, not the soft stuff you wear against your skin – no matter how much brainpower went into producing it. When we imagine economic progress, we no longer think about cloth, or even the machines that make it.

This cultural amnesia has multiple causes. The rise of computers and software as the very definition of ‘high technology’ eclipsed other industries. Intense global competition drove down prices of fibres and fabric, making textiles and apparel a less noticeable part of household budgets, and turning textile makers into unglamorous, commodity businesses. Environmental campaigns made synthetic a synonym for toxic. And for the first time in human history, generations of women across the developed world grew up without learning the needle arts."



"Textiles illustrate a more general point about technology. The more advanced a field is, the more blasé we are about its latest upgrades. Success breeds indifference. We still expect Moore’s Law to hold, but we no longer get excited about the latest microprocessor. The public has largely forgotten the silicon in Silicon Valley.

New and improved fabric technologies haven’t attracted public enthusiasm since the backlash against leisure suits and disco shirts made synthetics declassé in the early 1980s. ‘Pity poor polyester. People pick on it,’ wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Ronald Alsop in 1982, describing DuPont’s efforts to rehabilitate the fibre’s image.

What ended the consumer hatred of polyester wasn’t a marketing campaign. It was a quiet series of technical innovations: the development of microfibres. These are synthetics, most often polyester or nylon, that are thinner than silk and incredibly soft, as well as lightweight, strong, washable and quick-drying. Their shapes can be engineered to control how water vapour and heat pass through the fabric or to create microcapsules to add sunscreen, antimicrobial agents or insect repellent. Over the past decade, microfibres have become ubiquitous; they’re found in everything from wickable workout wear to supersoft plush toys.

Microfibres are one reason the ‘air-conditioned’ fabrics Loewy and his fellow designers foresaw in 1939 have finally come to pass. These fabrics just aren’t promoted in the pages of Vogue or highlighted on the racks at Banana Republic. They don’t attract attention during New York Fashion Week. Their tribe gathers instead at the big Outdoor Retailer trade shows held twice a year in Salt Lake City. There, outdoor-apparel makers and their suppliers tout textiles that keep wearers warm in the cold and cool in the heat; that block raindrops but allow sweat to escape; that repel insects, screen out UV rays and control odour. By establishing that truly weather-resistant fabrics were possible, Gore-Tex (first sold in 1976) and Polartec synthetic fleece (1979) created an industry where engineers now vie to find ever-better ways to conquer the elements. For instance, ‘smart textiles’ originally developed for spacesuits use microencapsulated materials that melt when they get hot, keeping wearers comfortable by absorbing body heat; when temperatures fall, the materials solidify and warm the body."



"Reducing textiles to their functional properties misses much of their appeal, however. They’ve always been decorative as well, a source of sensory pleasure going all the way back to the sexy string skirts worn by Stone Age women. That’s why dyes have been so important in the history of chemistry and trade.

In our computer-centric era, the pursuit of beautiful textiles has naturally turned to information technology. Over the past decade, inkjet printing on fabric has taken off. Instead of requiring a separate plate for each colour, digital printing registers the entire design at once. So for the first time, designers can use as many colours, and as varied patterns, as they choose. Although it currently accounts for less than 5 per cent of printed fabrics, digital printing has already changed the way clothes look. It’s the technology driving the colourful prints so prominent in recent women’s fashion, as well as the crowdsourced design sites Threadless and Spoonflower.

The customers who’ve embraced those designs don’t think much about what makes them possible. But the very invisibility of textiles testifies to their power. We think of them as natural. The instinct behind ‘wearable technology’ is sound, even if the products so far are awkward. ‘Imagine a textile structured from a blend of different fibres which each function as component within a circuit, for example, battery fibres, solar fibres and antenna fibres,’ writes the US fashion technologist Amanda Parkes in an op-ed for the website Business of Fashion. ‘The material itself becomes a self-sustaining “textile circuit” that has its own power and interactive capabilities, but the embedded technology is essentially invisible.’

If the goal is to shrink the distance between nature and artifice, us and it, no technology is as powerful as fabric. Intimate and essential, it touches every moment of our lives. It is among the greatest products of human artifice. Yet it is also an extension of our skin."
textiles  glvo  virginiapostrel  history  clothing  crafts  culture  technology  2015  wearables  materials  industrialrevolution  fashion  craft  dyes  machines  printing  science  adamsmith  raymondloewy  arthurcclarke  dupont  synthetics  fabrics  fabric  elizabethbarber  williampetty  davidorban  josephmariejacquard  weaving  looms  knitting  spinning  craigmuldrew  jameshargreaves  richardarkwright  beverlylemire  samuelcrompton  1939  vogue  microfibres  gore-tex  polartec  ministryofsupply  mizzenandmain  yicui  materialsscience  threadless  spoonflower  amandaparkes  future  making  cv 
june 2015 by robertogreco
Russell Davies: Conspiracies against the laity
"George Bernard Shaw said this:

"All professions are conspiracies against the laity."

It's discussed in a surprisingly chatty un-wikipedia-feeling wikipedia entry.

I always think about this when people discuss professionalisation.

This and Adam Smith:

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.""
professionalization  experts  2015  cv  confidence  bureaucracy  entrenchment  economics  adamsmith  professionals  domains  artleisure  leisurearts  amateurs  impostors  georgebernardshaw 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Moral Aspects of Basic Income
"The fall of Adam and Eve is a metaphor for the demise of our hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Eden is the recollection of an oppressed peasantry of the more humane world of their happier ancestors. Before we bit the apple, we lived off the fat of the land. Hunter-gatherers lived longer, ate better, and worked less than their agriculturalist descendants. Average adult height, an excellent proxy for childhood nutrition did not return to levels seen in the Palaeolithic until a mere 150 years ago.

Archaeologists tell us the invention of farming may well have been the greatest calamity to befall our species. Kings and slaves, property and war all were by-products of agriculture. Even today, even when forced onto marginal lands, hunter-gather tribes often prefer to retain their old ways rather than till the soil. “Why work hard when god made so many mongongo nuts?” ask the !Kung of southern Africa.

The lifestyle of hunter gathers is much more easygoing than that of serfs and peasants. Subsistence agriculturalists worked from sunup to sundown. Hunter-gatherers “worked” a few hours a day. That was enough to feed and clothe and house their families. The rest of the time they could socialize, play games, tell stories. And “work” back then was hunting antelope with your mates or strolling through the savannah looking for nuts and berries. Farmers overwhelmed hunter-gatherers, not because their lives were more pleasant but because farming makes land so much more productive.

Of course, we cannot go back to those happier days. Farming can feed up to 100 times as many people from the same plot of land and soon farmers outnumbered hunter-gatherers. An expanding population locked humanity into a constant and arduous grind. Until now."



"A number of us here at Pieria have argued that a basic income guarantee (also called a negative income tax) will not only reignite the economy and overcome secular stagnation, it will be the salvation of capitalism. Yes, it provides a safety net for the most unfortunate and yes, it reduces inequality, but most important, by creating steady and dependable demand, it cures capitalism’s only weakness, over-production. By putting money in consumers’ pockets, a basic income guarantees consistent demand and so gives the private sector confidence to hire and invest.

The economics of this proposal strike me as clear and convincing. I want to focus now on its ethical implications. On the one hand, helping the poorest citizens seems the Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or   Buddhist or humane) thing to do. In a wealthy society, it is unnecessarily cruel   that anyone among us should lack shelter, warmth and food. A negative income tax takes care of our most vulnerable without creating another government bureaucracy."



"If a conservative is someone who cherishes the time-honoured ways, is a bit odd that conservatives should exalt free markets. After all, capitalism is the most revolutionary force the world has ever known. Whenever it meets a traditional society, it turns it upside down. The rise of fundamentalism, in the Islamic world, in America, in India, is a global phenomenon and so requires a global explanation. The simplest is that capitalism, by shattering age-old relationships leaves many of us lost and alienated without the ancient verities that gave logic to our lives. “All that is solid melts into air. All freed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.”

Capitalism has been magnificent in producing wealth and increasing productivity. Unfortunately, It happily serves our baser instincts. GDP goes up whether we spend on guns and Internet porn or education and opera tickets. When money is the measure of the man, when consumption is our only goal our culture becomes shallower, and perhaps so do our relationships. And it is getting worse.

Thrift was the original capitalist virtue. According to Max Weber, upright burghers would limit consumption in order to purchase productive machinery or finance transoceanic voyages. By avoiding sumptuous consumption, our frugal protocapitalist could invest his capital and so increase society’s productive capacity. That was admirable. That was then.

Today, thrift is passé. These days, we serve capitalism by buying stuff, even stuff we don’t need. Thrift no longer has much economic purpose. We have a savings glut, we have a labour glut, what we don’t have is a consumption glut. The world economy doesn’t require prudent savers, it needs us to max out our credit cards just to keep unemployment below 7%. No wonder our children are obsessed with buying the coolest football boots or the dress they saw in Vogue. It is as consumers that we best serve global capitalism. Sadly this addiction to consumption may offer a bump to GDP but it does not create happiness.

What makes us happy, as Adam Smith recognized in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (the book he thought his masterpiece) is the regard of others. What brings me joy is not a new toy but the look on my wife’s face that tells me she loves me. What makes me happy at work is not the corner office but what that symbolizes: the sense that my boss admires and respects my talent and effort. A man buys an expensive watch because he thinks it will impress his mates but sadly, no one even notices. When a middle aged man pulls up in a candy red Ferrari, he rarely makes the impression he had hoped when he put down his credit card.

What we admire in others are not their possessions but rather the same virtues we admired back in the Palaeolithic: kindness, loyalty, bravery, generosity, beauty, strength and a sense of humour. Check out the personals ads: a sense of humour trumps an expensive watch every time. Today most of us work long hours, seeing our children less than we would like while others are utterly idle, unable to find work at all. We act as though we live in a world of scarcity when actually will live in a world our ancestors would have thought abundant beyond their wildest dreams. In terms of material comfort, you and I and even the guy in the hoodie down at the council estate live better than Charlemagne or Cleopatra.

Hunter-gatherers shared. Farmers and factory workers, for the most part, did not. In many tribes, a successful hunter would give away 90% of the meat from his kill. He certainly gained respect (and perhaps female companionship) for his prowess but the families of mediocre hunters also got to eat. Anthropologists suggest this propensity for generosity served everyone’s interests. Since no one family can eat an entire buffalo and even the best hunter sometimes goes a while without a kill, sharing the proceeds of a hunt is not just generous, it is an economically sensible insurance policy. So is a basic income guarantee.

We can afford a basic income guarantee. We can give every citizen enough money to survive. It will stimulate an economy starved of demand. It will make our society more equitable. It will feed the hungry and house the homeless. It respects the individual. It provides a constant level of demand that firms can depend on and so stimulate the animal spirits of businessmen. It will strengthen workers bargaining position because they will be able to tell their employers to “take this job and shove it.” It will also reduce labour costs since firms won’t be required to provide a living wage. It will give us more free time to dance and play and love our children. I would also suggest, it might just end up making us better human beings. "
economics  politics  universalbasicincome  christianity  ethics  morality  2013  maragretthatcher  larrysummers  labor  work  history  capitalism  freemarkets  markets  tomstreithorst  adamsmith  thrift  kindness  loyalty  bravery  generosity  johngrey  neoliberalism  malthus  karlmarx  capital  hunter-gatherers  ubi 
february 2015 by robertogreco
Final Boss Form: An Incomplete List of Interesting Books about Economics
"Here are the three most important books in forming my own worldview on economics.

• Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. Before there was money, there was debt. This makes this book a great place to start. One of my favorite books of the last decade.

• The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Economy of Cities, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, and The Nature of Economies by Jane Jacobs. Jane Jacobs was not a traditional economist but her work in understanding how cities operate made me see economies not as a product of nations but as the result of the activity within cities and regions. ‘Death and Life’ and ‘The Economy of Cities’ are so important to me that I gift them to people like missionaries hand out bibles. Here’s a nice writeup of two of her books.

• Civilization and Capitalism (Vol. 1-3) by Fernand Braudel.The single most important book in getting me to understand the connection between capitalism, markets, and everyday life. It also introduced me to the Annales School which is full of interesting ideas. Note: this one is loooooooooong and it took me years to read all three volumes (ok tbh, I’ve read two and half volumes.)

If I were to start reading from scratch, I would start with one or more of these books as an intro. They’re clever and fun and great texts for getting your bearings.

• Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan. A good introduction to general concepts in economics through fantastic storytelling. Check out socoftw's outline of the book here.

• The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in The Real World by Greg Ip. Nice primer. Some bits are a little too FREE MARKET RULEZ! for me but it was also a really good book for me to read. I recommend it because I was able to leap tall-ish articles in a single read after this book.

• The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. This is the book that explains why your cup of Starbucks costs what it does (among other things.)

These books are a good place to begin thinking critically about conventional economic theory.

• Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. A clever look at conventional wisdom in economics. Also just a fun read. Also available as an excellent blog, podcast, and twitter feed.

• Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. A summary of three decades of Kahneman’s work in understanding individual behavior in markets. Questions a lot of the “rational behavior” assumptions of neoclassical economics.

• How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. Statistics are stories told to people as “facts.” Considering how many economic decisions are made based on statistics, it’s important background to know. This book is a classic. (Speaking of facts: I got introduced to this book in high school by none other than George Gallup Jr.)

• The Surprising Design of Market Economies by Alex Marshall. The government builds our markets through property law, taxation, and infrastructure and yet our political conversations purposefully ignore this. This would be lolworthy if not for, you know, people making really bad policy decisions that affect the rest of us.

Okay, now that I’m into this, I want to dive a bit deeper.

• An Engine, Not a Camera by Donald Mackenzie. Finance theory doesn’t exist separate from the economy. By creating a theory of markets, you alter the fate of those markets over and over again.

• Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen. Economic development shouldn’t be seen merely an increase in basic income but as an increase in personal freedom, political freedom, opportunity (including credit), and social security. (Excerpt here.)

• The Work of Nations by Robert Reich. How do you value labor over wealth and reconfigure a workforce for a globalized economy? (I’d also follow his tumblr)

• Capitalism: Its Origins and Evolution as a System of Governance by Bruce R. Scott. A comprehensive look at capitalism and market economies. (Note: this book is sitting on my shelf but I haven’t read it yet.)

These are the books that reflect my current interest in heterodox economics and economic dynamics.

• Capital and Affects: The Politics of the Language Economy by Christian Marazzi. This book was a good introduction to “postfordism” which is a funny word for what comes after an age of industrial, mass market production.

• The Science of Passionate Interests: An Introduction to Gabriel Tarde’s Economic Anthropology by Bruno Latour & Vincent Antonin Lépinay. How do you measure economics not solely in terms of money but as an intensification of passionate interests?

• The Atlas of Economic Complexity by Ricardo Hausmann, CA Hidalgo, et al. Can you predict economic growth based on a measure of “productive” knowledge? Read an overview of the Atlas here. Peep all of the visualizations here and here. (Beware: charts are a highly evolved form of statistics.)

• Complex Economics: Individual and Collective Rationality by Alan Kirman. We make lots of assumptions in our current economic models: rationality, independence, and impersonal interactions. These aren’t based in any mathematical or market truths — they’re just formalisms. So what happens if the purpose of economics wasn’t efficiency but coordination? (Note: this is another book that is sitting on my shelf but I haven’t read it yet.)

Reading Important Old Theorists Is Important Because Everybody Interprets Their Words For Their Own Ends.

• The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. I suggest reading the whole thing but also understand if you can’t — it’s a long ass book written for an audience from 200 years ago. In that case, the Wikipedia article is a decent summary as long as you follow the links.

• Capital, Vol 1-3 by Karl Marx. I’ve only read Volume 1. Friedrich Engels’ synopsis is a great overview of the basics. The WP article is also a good primer.

• Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. I would suggest reading the Wikipedia article about him.

• The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes. Oh, so this is where macroeconomic theory comes from.

Oh yeah, these books are good too.

• Principles of Economics by Greg Mankiw. This is a good 101 read but it’s also an overpriced textbook so look for a used earlier edition that only costs $20 or so. Also browse Greg Mankiw’s blog here.

• The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson. You can also watch the PBS series based on the book here"
books  booklists  economics  2014  kenyattacheese  capitalism  davidgraeber  janejacobs  fernandbraudel  annalesschool  charleswheelan  gregip  timharford  stevenlevitt  stphendubner  danielkahneman  darrellhuff  statistics  alexmarshall  donaldmackenzie  amartyasen  robertreich  brucescott  christianmarazzi  gabrieltarde  brunolatour  vincentantoninlépinay  ricardohausmann  cahidalgo  alankirman  adamsmith  karlmarx  miltonfriedman  johnmaynardkeynes  gregmankiw  niallferguson 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Get Happy!! | The Nation
"For Margaret Thatcher as for today’s happiness industry, there is no such thing as society."



"Whether such discontent is more intense or pervasive now than it was fifty or 150 years ago is an unanswerable question. “There have been periods happier and others more desperate than ours,” the conservative cultural critic Ernest van den Haag observed in 1956. “But we don’t know which.” Samuel Beckett put the matter more sweepingly and poetically: “The tears of the world are a constant quantity,” he wrote, and “the same is true of the laugh.” But while it is impossible to chart the ebb and flow of emotions historically, to identify some epochs as happier or sadder than others, it is possible to explore the ways that dominant notions of happiness reflect the changing needs and desires of the culturally powerful at various historical moments. One can write the history of ideas about happiness, if not of happiness itself.

And that is another reason the current spate of happiness manuals is so depressing: their ideas of happiness embody the conventional wisdom of our time, which can best be characterized as scientism—a concept not to be confused with science, as Steven Pinker did in a recent New Republic polemic that attempted to bridge the seeming divide between the humanities and the sciences. The vast majority of practicing scientists (except for a few propagandists like Pinker) probably do not embrace scientism, but it is the idiom journalists use to popularize scientific findings for a nonscientific audience. It is not, to be sure, an outlook based on the scientific method—the patient weighing of experimental results, the reframing of questions in response to contrary evidence, the willingness to live with epistemological uncertainty. Quite the contrary: scientism is a revival of the nineteenth-century positivist faith that a reified “science” has discovered (or is about to discover) all the important truths about human life. Precise measurement and rigorous calculation, in this view, are the basis for finally settling enduring metaphysical and moral controversies—explaining consciousness and choice, replacing ambiguity with certainty. The most problematic applications of scientism have usually arisen in the behavioral sciences, where the varieties and perversities of experience have often been reduced to quantitative data that are alleged to reveal an enduring “human nature.”

The scientism on display in the happiness manuals offers a strikingly vacuous worldview, one devoid of history, culture or political economy. Its chief method is self-reported survey research; its twin conceptual pillars are pop evolutionary psychology, based on just-so stories about what human life was like on the African savannah 100,000 years ago, and pop neuroscience, based on sweeping, unsubstantiated claims about brain function gleaned from fragments of contemporary research. The worldview of the happiness manuals, like that in other self-help literature, epitomizes “the triumph of the therapeutic” described some decades ago by the sociologist Philip Rieff: the creation of a world where all overarching structures of meaning have collapsed, and there is “nothing at stake beyond a manipulatable sense of well-being.” With good reason, Rieff attributed the triumph of the therapeutic to the shrinking authority of Christianity in the West. But because he did not see the connections between therapeutic and capitalist worldviews, he could not foresee their convergence in late twentieth-century neoliberalism. For Margaret Thatcher as for the happiness industry, “There is no such thing as society.” There are only individuals, regulating their inner and outer lives in order to sustain and increase personal satisfaction."



"In the Skidelskys’ vision of the good society, noncoercive paternalism would be balanced by localism. The state would bear responsibility for promoting basic goods, would ensure that the fruits of productivity are shared more evenly, and would reduce the pressure to consume—perhaps through a progressive expenditure tax like the one proposed by the economist Robert Frank. This would restrain what he calls the “runaway spending at the top,” which belies the myth that the 1 percent is the “investing class” and has “spawned a luxury fever,” Frank writes, that “has us all in its grip.” To that same end—the dampening of consumption—the Skidelskys propose eliminating advertising as a deductible business expense. They are also refreshingly resistant to free-market globaloney. The good life, they make clear, is not (and cannot be) dependent on globalization: “Developed countries will have to rely more on domestic sources of production to satisfy their needs; developing market economies will need to abandon export-growth models that rely on ever-increasing consumption demand in developed countries.” Scaling back consumption means scaling down international trade. This is not an ascetic agenda—the charge so often leveled against critics of consumer culture, as if consumption is the only imaginable form of leisure. On the contrary: How Much Is Enough? is an effort to imagine possibilities for a satisfying life beyond market discipline.

The Skidelskys want to revive a more capacious sense of leisure, and they conclude their book by underscoring the material basis for it: a “long-term decrease in the demand for labor resulting from continuous improvements in labor productivity.” This has already happened, but the fruits of increased productivity have gone to CEOs and shareholders. Were those gains to be redirected to the workers themselves, the results would be startling: reductions in working hours, early retirements, experiments in work sharing, the thirty-five-hour week and the like. Who knows? People might even be happier.

This vision is timely, a crucial contribution to contemporary political debate. But what gives it arresting force is the commitment behind it. The Skidelskys deploy a tone of moral seriousness that few on the left seem willing to risk today—at least with respect to imagining the good life. Moral seriousness is always a tricky business; no one likes a scold. But after all the Skidelskys’ apt examples and patient arguments, they have established the authority to make this claim: “At the core of our system is a moral decay that is tolerated only because the cleansing of its Augean stables is too traumatic to contemplate.” How Much Is Enough? gets it right. Reading its bracing criticism and humane proposals, I felt a sense, however fleeting, of real happiness."
happiness  culture  stevenpinker  science  scientism  evolutionarypsychology  psychology  self-help  jacksonlears  neuroscience  via:annegalloway  chance  gameoflife  miltonbradley  christianity  individualism  history  capitalism  consumerism  materialism  society  well-being  leisure  labor  localism  socialdemocracy  neoliberalism  shimonedelman  oliverburkeman  robertskidelsky  edwardskidelsky  sonjalyubomirsky  christopherpeterson  jilllepore  cliffordgeetz  money  self-betterment  johnmaynardkeynes  socialism  policy  government  morality  adamsmith  marxism  karlmarx  pleasure  relationships  humans  humanism 
november 2013 by robertogreco
What Work Is Really For - NYTimes.com
"Everything depends on how we understand leisure. Is it mere idleness, simply doing nothing? Then a life of leisure is at best boring (a lesson of Voltaire’s “Candide”), and at worst terrifying (leaving us, as Pascal says, with nothing to distract from the thought of death). No, the leisure Aristotle has in mind is productive activity enjoyed for its own sake, while work is done for something else.

We can pass by for now the question of just what activities are truly enjoyable for their own sake — perhaps eating and drinking, sports, love, adventure, art, contemplation? The point is that engaging in such activities — and sharing them with others — is what makes a good life. Leisure, not work, should be our primary goal."

"From our infancy the market itself has worked to make us consumers, primed to buy whatever it is selling regardless of its relevance to human flourishing. True freedom requires that we take part in the market as fully formed agents, with life goals determined not by ad campaigns but by our own experience of & reflection on the various possibilities of human fulfillment. Such freedom in turn requires a liberating education, one centered not on indoctrination, social conditioning or technical training but on developing persons capable of informed & intelligent commitments to the values that guide their lives.

This is why, especially in our capitalist society, education must not be primarily for training workers or consumers (both tools of capitalism, as Marxists might say). Rather… should aim to produce self-determining agents who can see through the blandishments of the market & insist that the market provide what they themselves have decided they need to lead fulfilling lives."

[via: http://randallszott.org/2012/09/10/leisure-not-work-or-why-a-politics-organzied-around-workersing-is-a-bad-idea/ ]
play  recreation  adamsmith  life  leisure  economics  idleness  bertrandrussell  work  criticalthinking  training  indoctrination  markets  freedom  consumers  comsumerism  society  selfdetermination  unschooling  deschooling  capitalism  liberation  education  garygutting  leisurearts  artleisure 
september 2012 by robertogreco
Nothing Grows Forever | Mother Jones
"Handled correctly, this could bring about an explosion of free time that could utterly transform the way we live, no-growth economists say. It could lead to a renaissance in the arts and sciences, as well as a reconnection with the natural world. Parents with lighter workloads could home-school their children if they liked, or look after sick relatives—dramatically reshaping the landscape of education and elder care."
economics  growth  sustainability  ecology  environment  petervictor  clivethompson  johnstuartmill  adamsmith  globalwarming  population  2011  thomasrobertmalthus  history  well-being  happiness  france  netherlands  unemployment  employment  leisure  leisurearts  art  science  dennismeadows  hermandaly  keynes  motivation  psychology  capitalism  no-growththeory  wealthdistribution  standardofliving  us  europe  homeschool  unschooling  deschooling  productivity  post-industrial  post-development  work  labor  uneconomicgrowth  artleisure 
october 2011 by robertogreco
Obama and the Passions - NYTimes.com
"Contrary to Enlightenment expectations, the uncontrolled pursuit of interests, whether by individual or a class, proved just as proficient at disturbing social peace as the mindless pursuit of glory. Neither reason, grace, nor considerations of self-interest could settle the problem of the passions once and for all…<br />
<br />
The Great Recession & Tea Party’s ire, directed at Democrats & Republicans alike, suggest that this second political dispensation is coming to an end & that Americans’ passions are ready to be redirected once again. Having been dealt a bad hand, President Obama may have only a slim chance of doing that, but he has absolutely none if he limits himself to appealing to people’s interests. That’s not been the American experience of change. In our politics, history doesn’t happen when a leader makes an argument, or even strikes a pose. It happens when he strikes a chord. & you don’t need charts & figures to do that; in fact they get in the way. You only need 2 words…"
politics  passion  change  2010  reagan  reaganomics  kennedy  jfk  interests  economics  policy  reform  greatrecession  teaparty  adamsmith  hobbes  socrates  reason  behavior  society 
january 2011 by robertogreco
KNOTS: the architecture of problems « LEBBEUS WOODS
"we should not let the lack of a ready answer be a reason to avoid asking a question. Indeed, the only questions worth asking are those for which we do not already have an answer. In this seminar we will not shy away from looking at the most daunting problems.

The approach we will take is based on a way of breaking down—analyzing—problems in terms of three components of every problem we as architects confront: the spatial, the social, and the philosophical. Certainly there are other possible categories we could employ, but I have chosen these based on my experiences and also to work well within the structure of our seminar and its time-frame. The following presentation is an example of how the three chosen categories work in attempting to formulate a particularly intractable ‘knot’ confronting us today: the problem of slums:"
architecture  problemsolving  slums  lebbeuswoods  philosophy  theory  infrastructure  knots  mcescher  stanleykubrick  theshining  cities  poverty  riodejaneiro  sãopaulo  social  society  mumbai  nyc  singapore  manila  design  community  gatedcommunities  wealth  disparity  thomashobbes  human  johnlocke  magnacarta  history  declarationofindependence  capitalism  socialism  adamsmith  socialmobility  communism  karlmarx  marxism  friedrichengels  aynrand  objectivism 
october 2010 by robertogreco
BBC - BBC World Service Programmes - Business Daily, Adam Smith - Secret Socialist?
"He's often called the founder of modern economics. Some see him as the godfather of the free market. Others have viewed his work from a more socially concerned, even socialist standpoint. Business Daily takes a look at Adam Smith, the man and his legacy. Born in 1723 in Kirkcaldy in Scotland, he's been influencing economic thinking ever since the publishing of his seminal work, The Wealth of Nations. The eminent historian and economist, Tristam Hunt, guides us through Smith's life and how his ideas still have a fundamental bearing on economic and political strategies today. From Edinburgh to Vienna to Chicago to London, Hunt talks to some of the world's leading academics about Adam Smith's life and work, including Professor Iain McClean, professor of politics at Oxford university, Dr Craig Smith of St Andrew's University, Anthony Giddens from the London School of Economics and the activist and author Naomi Klein."
naomiklein  adamsmith  economics  history  capitalism  socialism  greed  policy  uk  philosophy  freemarkets  pinochet  chile  margaretthatcher  gordonbrown  friedrichvonhayek  johnmaynardkeynes 
january 2010 by robertogreco
Adam Smith, Disproved - Economix Blog - NYTimes.com
"Adam Smith, in his famous pin factory description, wrote that labor specialization improves productivity. He should have specified which species he was referring to.

A new paper finds that ants that specialize are no more productive than ants that don’t. The author, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona named Anna Dornhaus, studied how efficiently rock ants completed their tasks of brood transport, collecting sweets, foraging for protein and nest-building. An ant was considered more specialized the more it concentrated its work on one particular task.

She found that the ants that specialized in these tasks did not perform them more efficiently than ants that remained “generalists,” and in some cases performed their tasks less efficiently."
generalists  economics  specialists  specialization  animals  ants  insects  adamsmith  sociology  evolution  productivity  science 
november 2008 by robertogreco
Irving Wladawsky-Berger: Adam Smith 2.0
"We badly need similar innovations around what I would call Adam Smith 2.0, that is, new ways of scaling human sympathy to the more global dimensions in which we now live and work."
economics  markets  society  socialism  capitalism  sympathy  human  future  adamsmith  via:preoccupations 
april 2008 by robertogreco

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