Sunday, March 26, 2017

Deaths of Despair


In what is perhaps the least surprising story of the last 40+ years has gotten a bit of traction. Apparently, people object to being thrown on the social scrap heap so much that after awhile, they just give up and do things that lead to their premature deaths. Meanwhile the economics profession actually has the temerity to congratulate themselves on successfully managing the economy and churn out reams of phony, misleading, and ultimately irrelevant statistics to support their claims. That's pretty much their job, after all�to keep the unhappy peasants from hanging the financial classes from the lampposts.

So now we have rising death statistics to refute the claim that everything is just fine out there. So the new answer is to somehow trivialize these stark realities. The essay below from Business Insider has its moments but mostly its an attempt to cover death-inducing hopelessness with some psychobabble and some quotes from Emile Durkheim (please!)

As for me, I always revert to the Institutionalist response to terminal hopelessness�PUT THESE PEOPLE TO WORK at decent jobs that have meaning and purpose. You know, like rebuilding the infrastructure to meet the specifications of a fire-free future. I also believe in the Instinct of Workmanship as described by Veblen and am still swayed by my Lutheran upbringing that taught work was a form of devotion. Regular readers cannot be surprised by any of this.

'Deaths of Despair' are more than a sign of neoliberal incompetence, it demonstrates these fools are also heartless and cold-blooded killers. The ONLY way they can possibly sleep is to comfort themselves with the rationalization that the dying are mostly victims of their failure to 'learn' the principles and 'virtues' of Leisure Class uselessness.

We've known how to stop the 'Deaths of Despair' crisis gripping America's white working class for 120 years

Linette Lopez

It's only getting worse.

"Deaths of despair" � deaths related to suicide, drugs, and alcohol � continue to increase among middle-aged white working-class Americans without a high-school degree, according to research by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton. Their deaths are now outpacing those of minorities of the same class by a stunning margin.

Titled "Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century" and published by the Brookings Institution on Thursday, the findings are an update of Case and Deaton's 2015 work on death and illness among different demographic groups.

Based on Case and Deaton's work, we know that what started as a scourge in the Southwest in the early 2000s has spread to communities across the country. Geography isn't a dominant factor � this isn't a rural or urban problem exclusively. Instead, the problem is a class thing. It's an identity thing.

And this isn't the first time that social change has caused self-destructiveness on a mass scale. Indeed, 19th-century French sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote about similar problems in his time, and might refer to the plague of white middle-class mortality we see today as "a state of upheaval."

Of course, the lesson of the 2016 presidential election was that working- and middle-class whites are suffering. What Durkheim offers, though, is the argument for why the newly elected government in Washington � voted in by this very constituency � is getting the solution all wrong. The way to fix this problem is not through less government � but through more.

Durkheim's seminal work, the 1897 book "Suicide," remains one of the most in-depth examinations of why these situations occur in society, and it is as relevant as ever. Its lessons are an indication that as a country, we are moving swiftly, carelessly in the wrong direction.

Strange

The Americans we are talking about are white and middle class. They are aged 45-55. They are losing the battle against heart disease and cancer, and they are succumbing to drugs, alcohol and suicide at rates unseen in modern history or in other developed countries.

"The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015," Case and Deaton wrote.



The easy thing to say is that these people are suffering from economic and social anxiety and leave it at that. What's harder to pinpoint is what exactly that means and how to fix it. Economic conditions for minorities in the same social class and in the same communities are as hard, if not harder, than they are for middle class whites. But death rates aren't increasing for them.

This is where Durkheim comes in. He wrote his work in the midst of another state of upheaval, as industrialization was taking over the world and old economic patterns were falling away. This was the beginning of modern life as we now know it. And it was killing people.

No one remembers your name

Durkheim found that the degree to which a person is integrated in society is inversely correlated to their likelihood to engage in life-threatening behaviors and suicide.

In his work, he identified three kids of suicide: altruistic, anomic, and egoistic.

Of the three, the most complicated is anomic suicide. Anomie essentially means the breakdown of social values and norms, and Durkheim closely associated anomic suicide with economic catastrophe.

Case and Deaton associate trends in modern American mortality with the "measurable deterioration in economic and social wellbeing" of white middle-class workers as manufacturing jobs have disappeared from the workforce since the 1970s.

One of the big factors, then, in the increase in substance abuse and suicide among the white middle class could be a decline in the social framework as a result of the rapid economic changes seen over the last few decades.

It is not a surprise, then, that Donald Trump won the presidency on promising to bring these jobs back. The appeal of a high-paying honest job that commands respect from one's peers is strong. As Durkheim wrote: The workman is not in harmony with his social position if he his not convinced that he has his deserts."

That last word, deserts, is important. Anomic suicide is associated with one's expectations for oneself in modern society. This could explain why white middle-class Americans are taking the decline in their economic fortunes harder than their minority cohorts: In the old economic order, it was more or less understood that members of the white working class could, through hard work, attain a good life with a stable, high-paying job.

You know, the American Dream.

It's obvious that white middle-class Americans have had their dream shattered. All the while, the market, and the rest of the country, has moved on with the normal "feverish impatience of men's lives," as Durkheim wrote.


Faces look ugly when you're alone

The other of Durkheim's three forms of suicide, egoistic suicide comes from a state of heightened individualism in which a person is untethered from society. This can happen at times of person or collective stress. It is an evaporation of feelings of community support or common identity. It is an intense feeling of loneliness.

It might occur when someone loses their job, abandons their church, their institutions, their family � things that make them feel like a part of something larger. These are all characteristics of (but certainly not limited to) individuals going through economic hardship, and so along with the broader breakdown of society we considered above, self-destructive behavior and suicide could be driven by more personal catastrophes resulting from the changes of our era.

"Excessive individualism not only results in favoring the action of suicidogenic causes, but it itself is such a cause. It not only frees man's inclination to do away with himself from a protective obstacle but creates this inclination out of whole cloth and thus gives birth to a special suicide that bears its mark," he wrote.

Fortunately, it's possible for a broader functional community to circumvent this disastrous form of suicide. This feeling of loneliness is a cruel end that government, a pillar of American identity, can step in and help prevent when individuals are hurting. And it should, because when individuals are hurting they're destructive to themselves and their communities.

This is what government is for, in large part, protecting the collective from the violence (physical or social) perpetrated by some individuals.

But what our current government is offering is the opposite. Donald Trump ran on leaving entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone, but that's not happening, as can be seen in cuts to the latter program in the Republicans' proposal to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Poll after poll showed that Trump voters wanted more investment in education, but that's not happening either. They want their communities built up, but instead they're having their resources taken away � they're being broken apart.

Listen to Mick Mulvaney, Trump's budget director, talk about school lunches not having any impact on performance, and you might forget that a school is not just a school � it's a community.

Listen to House Speaker Paul Ryan talk about Medicaid, and you may forget that its expansion is helping to fight the opioid epidemic ravaging the very communities we're discussing. This is nothing but cruelty.

Durkheim did some work on that kind of callousness among the rich and powerful too. We are a wealthy country � the wealthiest, actually � and that wealth can lead to folly.

He wrote, "Wealth ... by the power it bestows deceives us into believing that we depend on ourselves only. Reducing the resistance we encounter from objects, it suggests the possibility of unlimited success against them."

But success is never unlimited. The reality of life in America is that objects � in the form of social structures or physical disabilities � can defeat human beings.

Based on the way we talk about government we've clearly forgotten that. The people of Durkheim's time did too. Modern political structures, he wrote in "Suicide,' all work to "reduce government to the role of a more or less passive intermediary among the various social functions."

That role fails to acknowledge that objects � in this case the invisible forces of economic change and class structure � are in front of all of us, some of us more and some of us less. We are not born onto a level playing field of equal opportunity, and that field will not simply appear because we're American. We have to invest in it.

Opening up avenues of opportunity takes a powerful, concerted effort from the government, and when we fail to see that, we allow people in our society to be defeated. Trump, Ryan, and their ilk might tell you that the market can offer those opportunities naturally, but the market has never pretended to care for any of us, and the idea that a person can face it alone is beyond laughable.

You see, we're playing ourselves.
We are living in a delusion of our own power, and in the process � by undermining the utility of government for public good � casting aside the power of the collective. We are untethering ourselves from the very things that bind us together as a society.

As we stand, our "deaths of despair" rate is not getting better, and it's not going to. We are choosing to make it worse. more

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Moore's law for sustainables?


It's WAY past time to get serious about climate change. Any serious effort will have as its primary goal, the elimination of fire. It's more complicated than that, of course, but in theoretical terms, not much. The real complications will come from trying to implement that strategy.

The worst possible policymaking error was in play when drafting the Paris agreements of 2015. Problem ONE was setting the emission reduction targets for 2050. In most minds, a goal 35 years away says there is plenty of time to organize the project and do it right. This is nuts, of course. We took roughly 6-10,000 years to build and perfect the fire-based civilizations we live in and so we have less than 1/200th the time to replace global energy structure. NO! There is NOT a lot of time for goofing off.

In this piece from Deutsche Welle, a new policymaking framework is being proposed that if nothing else, would at least pump some urgency into the matter. As we know, arguing from analogy is usually a hazardous venture, but here we have some serious thinkers arguing that we should address this HUGE problem by trying to replicate Moore's "Law" with sustainable infrastructure. While this may sound a little pie-in-the-sky it actually makes a great deal of sense. After all, the same innovation path that gave us cheap flat-screen TVs is behind those incredibly cheap solar panels.

The folks who argue that the computer industry set the example for best practices when it comes to innovation certainly have a point.

Could the law driving computing leaps speed up climate protection?


Dave Keating, 24.03.2017

A new report says the UN's incremental approach to reducing emissions is all wrong. The effort needs to come on strong early - and lessons can be learned from the evolution of computing.

When world leaders reached the landmark Paris agreement in December 2015, it was hailed as a monumental step forward in the fight against climate change.

Given the collapse of previous attempts at common action in Kyoto and Copenhagen, it represented a political milestone. But many worried that the headline goal - setting voluntary, percentage-based emission reduction targets for each signatory country by 2050 - was too long-term to spur real action.

On Thursday (23.03.17), researchers proposed an alternative: a "carbon law" obliging all people, cities, businesses and countries to halve their emissions every 10 years. The idea will be presented to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in New York on Friday.

"It's a much simpler and more ambitious framing, because you have huge emissions cuts in the first 10 years, and then it gets easier in the future to reach the targets," the report's co-author Owen Gaffney told DW.

"A lot of the framing around the carbon challenge right now says we need to get to zero emissions some time after 2050. It's hard to see how that will motivate the kind of action we need right now to decarbonize the global economy."

Emulating computers

The report, produced by the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, is not meant to replace the Paris Agreement's headline goal of keeping global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Instead, it intends to provide a more reliable way to get there - by providing businesses with clarity about the short-term gains of investing in the low-carbon economy.

Gaffney says he and his colleagues got the idea for the alternative model in the summer of 2015 while chatting with Johan Falk, director of the Stockholm IOT ignition lab for computer processor maker Intel.

Falk had told them about "Moore's Law" in the IT industry, which accounts for how processors have been doubling their computing power every two years. Neither a natural nor statutory law, this simple rule of thumb has nonetheless been accepted by the industry for the past 50 years, driving disruptive innovation. Industry leaders believed in it - and it became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

"It was a side conversation over coffee at a big data event, and he mentioned Moore's Law in the computer industry," Gaffney recalled. "We wondered if this steep curve could be replicated for emissions," he explained.

"A few months later we had the Paris Agreement, and a group of us were looking at what comes next. We started thinking about how to frame a carbon roadmap in a different way to how they are being framed at the moment."

Gaffney says if an assumption were created to halve emissions - in the same way an assumption was created for doubling computer processing power - this would prompt behavior by companies and governments to bring emission reductions into fruition.

Pipe dream?

Currently, no country has plans to halve emissions in the next 10 years - although some small countries plan to come close. The "nationally determined contributions" submitted to the UN by major emitters delay their most significant action until future decades.

Justifying the slow pace, politicians have cautioned that commitments need to be kept realistic, otherwise they are meaningless.

But Gaffney rejects the idea that his proposal is unrealistic. "Renewables are already increasing at an exponential rate - over the past decade there has been a doubling every 5.5 years," he said, adding that this kind of exponential trajectory is already present in that sector.

"At the same time, emissions growth from fossil fuels appears to be stalling for two years running. We can now realistically think that emissions could start declining by 2020."

The report calls for emissions to be reduced from 40 to 20 gigatonnes of CO2 from 2020 to 2030. This would then be reduced to 10 gigatonnes in 2040 and 5 gigatonnes in 2050. Most of the effort, therefore, would be required over the next 13 years.

To get there, the report recommends removing fossil fuel subsidies by 2030, and putting a price on carbon at $50 per ton, rising to $400 in the next two decades.

By 2040, coal should be completely phased out of the energy mix, and construction should be fully carbon-neutral. By 2050, oil should be phased out, and the global economy should be carbon neutral. Europe should achieve zero emissions by 2040, with the rest of the world reaching this goal around 2050.

No guarantee

But even this ambitious roadmap does not guarantee success. Following this "carbon law" would give the world a 75 percent chance of keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, the report concludes.

Some have given the current Paris Agreement trajectory a less than 30 percent chance of succeeding to reach this goal.

For Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Berlin, the most important effect of changing the emissions reduction trajectory is the message it would send to businesses.

"Our civilization needs to reach a socio-economic tipping point soon," he said. "We identify concrete steps towards full decarbonisation by 2050. Businesses that try to avoid those steps and keep on tiptoeing will miss the next industrial revolution, and thereby their best opportunity for a profitable future." more

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Trump as a Fascist?


Historical illiteracy is so common here in USA that it is usually a good idea to just react like the Animal House brothers who listened as Bluto ranted, "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Otter turns to Boon and asks incredulously, "Germans?" Boon's response was, "Forget it, he's rolling." And mostly I can do just that. I usually only get wound up for two subjects�the misuse of the word Populism and any thoroughly ridiculous statement about WW II and the German role in making it happen.

Lately I have gotten increasingly upset by the careless comparisons lefties are drawing between Trump and Hitler. Now President Trump has a multitude of flaws but Hitler he most certainly is not. For example, from the time Hitler assumed power on 30 JAN 1933 and the opening of the Dachau concentration camp on 22 MAR 1933 was only 51 days. My guess is that the Donald will not have a full cabinet 51 days into his administration. The Nazis were highly organized and had a wide-ranging political philosophy. Where's Trump's Mein Kampf? Where is his political experience? Where is his war-hero record? Where are his willing-to-die followers?

Calling Trump the next Hitler is just plain idiotic. I wish folks would stop it because it is not at all helpful.

First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump

by STANSFIELD SMITH, MARCH 21, 2017

With the hullabaloo about Trump and fascism, it is useful to review Hitler�s first months in power, to get a sense of a real fascist regime.

Hitler came to power January 30, 1933, Trump on January 20, making easy a chronological comparison of their lead ups to power and their first months in power. The comparison shows how silly and hysterical it is to claim Trump represents fascism.

Hitler did not take power by entering into the primaries of a German version of the Republican Party. In complete contrast to Trump, he built, controlled, and ran under the banner of his own fascist party. Hitler also created an armed thug operation, the Brownshirts, to bully progressive organizations. The Brownshirts numbered 500,000 organized men by late 1932, five times the size of the German army.

Four parties contended in the German elections in the summer of 1932: the Nazis, the National Party, the Social Democrats and the Communists all of which won millions of votes.

During this election, �In Prussia alone between June 1 and 20 there were 461 pitched battles in the streets which cost 82 lives and seriously wounded 400 men.� �In July, 38 Nazis and 30 Communists were among the 86 dead.� On July 10, 18 were killed, and on July 17, �when the Nazis, under police escort, staged a march through Altona, a working class suburb of Hamburg, 19 persons were shot dead and 285 wounded.�

A world of violence and murder between fascists and anti-fascists, just in the space of six weeks, bearing no similarity to the few fistfights and the shutting down of a Trump rally in Chicago during the more than yearlong US electoral season.

On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor. Right after, in Prussia, with two-thirds of the German population, the police force was purged and Nazis replaced police chiefs. The police were then ordered not to interfere with the work of the Brownshirts. The February 17, 1933 Nazi police order stated:
�The activities of subversive organizations are � to be combatted with the most drastic methods. Communist terrorist acts are to be proceeded against with all severity, and weapons must be used ruthlessly when necessary. Police officers who in the execution of their duties use their firearms will be supported by us without regard for the effect of their shots�.�
Little over two weeks in power, the Brownshirts had been handed the license to bully, beat, even kill leftists and Jews. In contrast, the two week old Trump presidency found its first anti-Muslim executive order blocked by a judge.

Three weeks in power, 50,000 Brownshirts were made part of the police. They began unauthorized arrests, broke into public building and homes and made nightly raids to seize anti-Hitler opponents. Those seized were typically put in newly set up �camps.�

On February 24 the Nazis took over the Communist Party headquarters. Communist meetings were banned, their press shut down, and their Reichstag (the German version of the US Congress) deputies arrested. Thus, less than a month in power, the Nazis had beheaded the militant left.

Here, hundreds of thousands had mobilized around the country to protest Trump�s actions, unchallenged by any sort of Trump thugs.

February 27, not a month in power, the Reichstag was torched, which the Nazis blamed on the Communists. A vast national witch-hunt ensued. The Nazi�s Emergency Degree declared:
�Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications and warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.�
Leaving aside that under Obama and before, the NSA already had eliminated our right to privacy, in US terms this decree would mean Trump had abolished the Bill of Rights and instituted imprisonment without trial before he had even been president for a month.

By the middle of March, Nazi thugs had rounded up tens of thousands of political opponents, liberals, Communists and Social Democrats, put them in camps, tortured them, and in many cases killed them. This even included outspoken religious leaders. In Prussia alone, 25,000 Communist, Social Democrat and liberal leaders were arrested and sent to Nazi camps.

Brownshirt thugs took over town halls, government offices, newspapers, trade union offices, businesses, department stores, banks, and courts, removing �unreliable� officials.

Here in the US, during the same time period, another judge blocked Trump�s revised anti-Muslim travel ban.

On March 21, Hitler was given a decree to arrest anyone criticizing the Nazi party, to be tried in military style courts with no jury and often with no right to defense.

On March 23, still before two months in power � as long as Trump has been President � the German Parliament approved the Enabling Act, allowing Hitler to enact laws by decree.

On April 7 all Jews were dismissed from civil service jobs.

On May 2, after the Nazis had cynically declared May Day a national holiday, all the trade union offices were occupied, with their property and funds confiscated, and trade union leaders arrested and beaten.

By June 1933, there were 2 million Brownshirts, twenty times the size of the German army, and these �brown-shirted gangs roamed the streets, arresting and beating up and sometimes murdering whomever they pleased while the police looked on without lifting a nightstick�. Judges were intimidated; they were afraid for their lives if they convicted and sentenced a storm-trooper even for cold-blooded murder.� [4]

July 14 all other political parties were prohibited, and the fascists could confiscate the property of any organization it considered anti-Nazi and could summarily revoke anyone�s citizenship.

That was fascism. Here, a great number of liberal-leftists call Trump a new Hitler, some even claiming that we live under a fascist regime. Yet Trump does not possess his own party, nor an armed fascist militia obedient to him, let alone one of hundreds of thousands. Trump has not thrown out the Bill of Rights, wiped out the AFL-CIO, sent his political opponents to concentration camps. He can�t even shut down Saturday Night Live. Trump is a billionaire racist, sexist war-monger out to salvage the US corporate empire, nothing more, nothing less.

What lies behind this hysteria about Trump fascism?

In almost every presidential election going back generations, liberal-left Democratic Party supporters label the Republican candidate with the political swearword �fascist.� Now it is more shrill. As the Democratic presidential candidates become more and more openly corporate stooges these liberal-left �lesser evil� voters must resort to painting the Republican in extreme terms to win support for their own candidate. We should just be very scared, vote Democrat, or we are doomed.

Leftists recognize corporate America owns the two parties, yet many still vote Democrat. Every four years, we must first defeat the so-called fascist, then build our movement. So is the story we are told. This strategy traps us in the Democratic Party. It has worked effectively for generations. Not only does it reinforce our domination by corporate America, but it seriously miseducates people about fascism.

Needless to say, so long as corporate America has the liberal-left tied to their two party system, they have no need for fascism. They need fascism only when their customary method of rule breaks down, and they face a very direct threat of losing control to revolutionary forces. The historic function of fascism is to smash the radicalized working class and its allies, destroy their organizations, and shut down political liberties when the corporate rulers find themselves unable to govern through their charade of democracy. No such problem here.

We do need to fight Trump, just as we would have with Clinton, and should have with Obama. But it miseducates people to paint Trump as qualitatively different. They all rule for corporate America, all have more or less the same program of controlling the 99% and making us pay for the decline of their system. more

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Limitations of Marginal Utility


Marginal Utility is an economic idea that unfortunately refuses to die�mostly because it does have some narrow applications where the theory works.

According to wikipedia, marginal utility is defined as:
In economics, utility is the satisfaction or benefit derived by consuming a product, thus the marginal utility of a good or service is the change in the utility from increase or decrease in the consumption of that good or service. Economists sometimes speak of a law of diminishing marginal utility, meaning that the first unit of consumption of a good or service yields more utility than the second and subsequent units, with a continuing reduction for greater amounts. Therefore, the fall in marginal utility as consumption increases is known as diminishing marginal utility.
The problem isn't that marginal utility has no useful applications, it's that there are those who believe the concept of marginal utility can be applied to everything from labor relations to romantic decisions. The first of the economists who believed that was, arguably, an academic named John Bates Clark. He became a favorite of the Gilded Age rich for these teachings. In 1947, they began to award an economic prize named for him.
The John Bates Clark Medal is awarded by the American Economic Association to "that American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge".[1] According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, it "is widely regarded as one of the field�s most prestigious awards, perhaps second only to the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences."[2] The award was made biennially until 2007, but is being awarded every year from 2009 because many deserving went unawarded.  Named after the American economist John Bates Clark (1847�1938), it is considered one of the two most prestigious awards in the field of economics, along with the Nobel Prize.
A glance at the list of winners shows that not surprisingly most of them were conservative / reactionary when they won. Clark himself was a known reactionary so why not? A couple, like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have now evolved into something a bit more progressive and interesting but were doctrinaire neoliberals when they won in 1979 and 1991.

But there was one student of Clark who was appalled with his blatant misuse of marginal utility�Thorstein Veblen. Clark taught Veblen economics at Carleton College�so of course, Veblen decided to spend a lot of his intellectual horsepower attacking the problem of Clark and his really absurd ideas about marginal utility. Below is his most famous effort.

Clark and Veblen were said to have professionally cordial interactions throughout life but as you can see, Veblen thought him completely wrong. And the reason this is interesting is that Veblen was right about this. Even more interesting, the touch of spectacular error seem to fall on those who are awarded the Clark Medal�something to keep in mind when it becomes obvious that while a Krugman can occasionally sound quite progressive, deep down he is the neoliberal swine the folks at Clark Medal so highly prized.

The Limitations of Marginal Utility

Thorstein Veblen
Journal of Political Economy, volume 17. 1909

The limitations of the marginal-utility economics are sharp and characteristic. It is from first to last a doctrine of value, and in point of form and method it is a theory of valuation. The whole system, therefore, lies within the theoretical field of distribution, and it has but a secondary bearing on any other economic phenomena than those of distribution -- the term being taken in its accepted sense of pecuniary distribution, or distribution in point of ownership. Now and again an attempt is made to extend the use of the principle of marginal utility beyond this range, so as to apply it to questions of production, but hitherto without sensible effect, and necessarily so. The most ingenious and the most promising of such attempts have been those of Mr. Clark, whose work marks the extreme range of endeavor and the extreme degree of success in so seeking to turn a postulate of distribution to account for a theory of production. But the outcome has been a doctrine of the production of values, and value, in Mr. Clark's as in other utility systems, is a matter of valuation; which throws the whole excursion back into the field of distribution. Similarly, as regards attempts to make use of this principle in an analysis of the phenomena of consumption, the best results arrived at are some formulation of the pecuniary distribution of consumption goods.

Within this limited range marginal utility theory is of a wholly statical character. It offers no theory of a movement of any kind, being occupied with the adjustment of values to a given situation. Of this, again, no more convincing illustration need be had than is afforded by the work of Mr. Clark, which is not excelled in point of earnestness, perseverance, or insight. For all their use of the term "dynamic", neither Mr. Clark nor any of his associates in this line of research have yet contributed anything at all appreciable to a theory of genesis, growth, sequence, change, process, or the like, in economic life. They have had something to say as to the bearing which given economic changes, accepted as premises, may have on economic valuation, and so on distribution; but as to the causes of change or the unfolding sequence of the phenomena of economic life they have had nothing to say hitherto; nor can they, since their theory is not drawn in causal terms but in terms of teleology.


In all this the marginal utility school is substantially at one with the classical economics of the nineteenth century, the difference between the two being that the former is confined within narrower limits and sticks more consistently to its teleological premises. Both are teleological, and neither can consistently admit arguments from cause to effect in the formulation of their main articles of theory. Neither can deal theoretically with phenomena of change, but at the most only with rational adjustment to change which may be supposed to have supervened.

To the modern scientist the phenomena of growth and change are the most obtrusive and most consequential facts observable in economic life. For an understanding of modern economic life the technological advance of the past two centuries -- e.g., the growth of the industrial arts -- is of the first importance; but marginal utility theory does not bear on this matter, nor does this matter bear on marginal utility theory. As a means of theoretically accounting for this technological movement in the past or in the present, or even as a means of formally, technically stating it as an element in the current economic situation, that doctrine and all its works are altogether idle.


The like is true for the sequence of change that is going forward in the pecuniary relations of modern life; the hedonistic postulate and its propositions of differential utility neither have served nor can serve an inquiry into these phenomena of growth, although the whole body of marginal utility economics lies within the range of these pecuniary phenomena. It has nothing to say to the growth of business usages and expedients or to the concomitant changes in the principles of conduct which govern the pecuniary relations of men, which condition and are conditioned by these altered relations of business life or which bring them to pass.

It is characteristic of the school that whatever an element of the cultural fabric, an institution or any institutional phenomenon, is involved in the facts with which the theory is occupied, such institutional facts are taken for granted, denied, or explained away. If it is a question of price, there is offered an explanation of how exchanges may take place with such effect as to leave money and price out of the account. If it is a question of credit, the effect of credit extension on business traffic is left on one side and there is an explanation of how the borrower and lender cooperate to smooth out their respective income streams of consumable goods or sensations of consumption. The failure of the school in this respect is consistent and comprehensive. And yet these economists are lacking neither in intelligence nor in information. They are, indeed, to be credited, commonly, with a wide range of information and an exact control of materials, as well as with a very alert interest in what is going on; and apart from their theoretical pronouncements the members of the school habitually profess the sanest and most intelligent views of current practical questions, even when these questions touch matters of institutional growth and decay.

The infirmity of this theoretical scheme lies in its postulates which confine the inquiry to generalisations of the teleological or "deductive" order. These postulates, together with the point of view and logical method that follow from them, the marginal utility school shares with other economists of the classical line -- for this school is but a branch or derivative of the English classical economists of the nineteenth century. The substantial difference between this school and the generality of classical economists lies mainly in the fact that in the marginal utility economics the common postulates are more consistently adhered to at the same time that they are more neatly defined and their limitations are more adequately realized. Both the classical school is general and its specialized variant, the marginal utility school, in particular, take as their common point of departure the traditional psychology of the early nineteenth century hedonists, which is accepted as a matter of course or of common notoriety and is held quite uncritically. The central and well defined tenet so held is that of the hedonistic calculus. Under the guidance of this tenet and of the other psychological conceptions associated and consonant with it, human conduct is conceived of and interpreted as a rational response to the exigencies of the situation in which mankind is placed; as regards economic conduct it is such a rational and unprejudiced response to the stimulus of anticipated pleasure and pain -- being, typically and in the main, a response to the promptings of anticipated pleasure, for the hedonists of the nineteenth century and of the marginal utility school are in the main of an optimistic temper.1 Mankind is, on the whole and normally, (conceived to be) clearsighted and farsighted in its appreciation of future sensuous gains and losses, although there may be some (inconsiderable) difference between men in this respect. Men's activities differ, therefore, (inconsiderably) in respect of the alertness of the response and the nicety of adjustment of irksome pain cost to apprehended future sensuous gain; but, on the whole, no other ground or line or guidance of conduct than this rationalistic calculus falls properly within the cognizance of the economic hedonists. Such a theory can take account of conduct only in so far as it is rational conduct, guided by deliberate and exhaustively intelligent choice -- wise adaption to the demands of the main chance.

The external circumstances which condition conduct are variable, of course, and so they will have a varying effect upon conduct; but their variation is, in effect, construed to be of such a character only as to vary the degree of strain to which the human agent is subject by contact with these external circumstances. The cultural elements involved in the theoretical scheme, elements that are of the nature of institutions, human relations governed by use and wont in whatever kind and connection, are not subject to inquiry but are taken from granted as preexisting in a finished, typical form and as making up a normal and definite economic situation, under which and in terms of which human intercourse is necessarily carried on. This cultural situation comprises a few large and simple articles of institutional furniture, together with their logical implications or corollaries; but it includes nothing of the consequences or effects caused by these institutional elements. The cultural elements so tacitly postulated as immutable conditions precedent to economic life are ownership and free contract, together with such other features of the scheme of natural rights as are implied in the exercise of these. These cultural products are, for the purpose of the theory, conceived to be given a priori in unmitigated force. They are part of the nature of things; so that there is no need of accounting for them or inquiring into them, as to how they have come to be such as they are, or how and why they have changed and are changing, or what effect all this may have on the relations of men who live by or under this cultural situation.

Evidently the acceptance of these immutable premises, tacitly, because uncritically and as a matter of course, by hedonistic economics gives the science a distinctive character and places it in contrast with other sciences whose premises are of a different order. As has already been indicated, the premises in question, so far as they are peculiar to the hedonistic economics, are (a) a certain institutional situation, the substantial feature of which is the natural right of ownership, and (b) the hedonistic calculus. The distinctive character given to this system of theory by these postulates and by the point of view resulting from their acceptance may be summed up broadly and concisely in saying that the theory is confined to the ground of sufficient reason instead of proceeding on the ground of efficient cause. The contrary is true of modern science, generally (except mathematics), particularly of such sciences as have to do with the phenomena of life and growth. The difference may seem trivial. It is serious only in its consequences. The two methods of inference -- from sufficient reason and from efficient cause -- are out of touch with one another and there is no transition from one to the other; no method of converting the procedure or the results of the one into those of the other. The immediate consequence is that the resulting economic theory is of a teleological character -- "deductive" or "a priori" as it is often called -- instead of being drawn in terms of cause and effect. The relation sought by this theory among the facts with which it is occupied is the control exercised by future (apprehended) events over present conduct. Current phenomena are dealt with as conditioned by their future consequences; and in strict marginal-utility theory they can be dealt with only in respect of their control of the present by consideration of the future. Such a (logical) relation of control or guidance between the future and the present of course involves an exercise of intelligence, a taking thought, and hence an intelligent agent through whose discriminating forethought the apprehended future may affect the current course of events; unless, indeed, one were to admit something in the way of a providential elements, the relation of sufficient reason runs by way of the interested discrimination, the forethought, of an agent who takes thought of the future and guides his present activity by regard for this future. The relation of sufficient reason runs only from the (apprehended) future into the present, and it is solely of an intellectual, subjective, personal, teleological character and force; while the relation of cause and effect runs only in the contrary direction, and it is solely of an objective, impersonal materialistic character and force. The modern scheme of knowledge, on the whole, rests for its definitive ground, on the relation of cause and effect; the relation of sufficient reason being admitted only provisionally and as a proximate factor in the analysis, always with the unambiguous reservation that the analysis must ultimately come to rest in terms of cause and effect. The merits of this scientific animus, of course, do not concern the present argument.

Now, it happens that the relation of sufficient reason enters very substantially into human conduct. It is this element of discriminating forethought that distinguishes human conduct from brute behavior. And since the economist's subject of inquiry is this human conduct, that relation necessarily comes in for a large share of his attention in any theoretical formulation of economic phenomena, whether hedonistic or otherwise. But while modern science at large has made the causal relation the sole ultimate ground of theoretical formulation; and while the other sciences that deal with human life admit the relation of sufficient reason as a proximate, supplementary, or intermediate ground, subsidiary, and subservient to the argument from cause and effect; economics has had the misfortune -- as seen from the scientific point of view -- to let the former supplant the latter. It is, of course, true that human conduct is distinguished from other natural phenomena by the human faculty for taking thought, and any science that has to do with human conduct must face the patent fact that the details of such conduct consequently fall into the teleological form; but it is the peculiarity of the hedonistic economics that by force of its postulated its attention is confined to this teleological bearing of conduct alone. It deals with this conduct only in so far as it may be construed in rationalistic, teleological terms of calculation and choice. But it is at the same time no less true that human conduct, economic or otherwise, is subject to the sequence of cause and effect, by force of such elements as habituation and conventional requirements. But facts of this order, which are to modern science of graver interest than the teleological details of conduct, necessarily fall outside the attention of the hedonistic economist, because they cannot be construed in terms of sufficient reason, such as his postulates demand, or be fitted into a scheme of teleological doctrines.

There is, therefore, no call to impugn these premises of the marginal-utility economics within their field. They commend themselves to all serious and uncritical persons at first glance. They are principles of action which underlie the current, business-like scheme of economic life, and as such, as practical grounds of conduct, they are not to be called in question without questioning the existing law and order. As a matter of course, men order their lives by these principles and, practically, entertain no question of their stability and finality. That is what is meant by calling them institutions; they are settled habits of thought common to the generality of men. But it would be mere absentmindedness in any student of civilization therefore to admit that these or any other human institutions have this stability which is currently imputed to them or that they are in this way intrinsic to the nature of things. The acceptance by the economists of these or other institutional elements as given and immutable limits their inquiry in a particular and decisive way. It shuts off the inquiry at the point where the modern scientific interest sets in. The institutions in question are no doubt good for their purpose as institutions, but they are not good as premises for a scientific inquiry into the nature, origin, growth, and effects of these institutions and of the mutations which they undergo and which they bring to pass in the community's scheme of life.

To any modern scientist interested in economic phenomena, the chain of cause and effect in which any given phase of human culture is involved, as well as the cumulative changes wrought in the fabric of human conduct itself by the habitual activity of mankind, are matters of more engrossing and more abiding interest than the method of inference by which an individual is presumed invariably to balance pleasure and pain under given conditions that are presumed to be normal and invariable. The former are questions of the life-history of the race or the community, questions of cultural growth and of the fortunes of generations; while the latter is a question of individual casuistry in the face of a given situation that may arise in the course of this cultural growth. The former bear on the continuity and mutations of that scheme of conduct whereby mankind deals with its material means of life; the latter, if it is conceived in hedonistic terms, concerns a disconnected episode in the sensuous experience of an individual member of such a community.

In so far as modern science inquires into the phenomena of life, whether inanimate, brute, or human, it is occupied about questions of genesis and cumulative change, and it converges upon a theoretical formulation in the shape of a life-history drawn in causal terms. In so far as it is a science in the current sense of the term, any science, such as economics, which has to do with human conduct, becomes a genetic inquiry into the human scheme of life; and where, as in economics, the subject of inquiry is the conduct of man in his dealings with the material means of life, the science is necessarily an inquiry into the life-history of material civilization, on a more or less extended or restricted plan. Not that the economist's inquiry isolates material civilization from all other phases and bearings of human culture, and so studies the motions of an abstractly conceived "economic man." On the contrary, no theoretical inquiry into this material civilization in its causal, that is to say, its genetic, relations to other phases and bearings of the cultural complex; without studying it as it is wrought upon by other lines of cultural growth and as working its effects in these other lines. But in so far as the inquiry is economic science, specifically, the attention will converge upon the scheme of material life and will take in other phases of civilization only in their correlation with the scheme of material civilization.

Like all human culture this material civilization is a scheme of institutions -- institutional fabric and institutional growth. But institutions are an outgrowth of habit. The growth of culture is a cumulative sequence of habituation, and the ways and means of it are the habitual response of human nature to exigencies that vary incontinently, cumulatively, but with something of a consistent sequence in the cumulative variations that so go forward, -- incontinently, because each new move creates a new situation which induces a further new variation in the habitual manner of response; cumulatively, because each new situation is a variation of what has gone before it and embodies as causal factors all that has been effected by what went before; consistently, because the underlying traits of human nature (propensities, aptitudes, and what not) by force of which the response takes place, and on the ground of which the habituation takes effect, remain substantially unchanged.

Evidently an economic inquiry which occupies itself exclusively with the movements of this consistent, elemental human nature under given, stable institutional conditions -- such as is the case with the current hedonistic economics -- can reach statical results alone; since it makes abstraction from those elements that make for anything but a statical result. On the other hand an adequate theory of economic conduct, even for statical purposes, cannot be drawn in terms of the individual simply -- as is the case in the marginal-utility economics -- because it cannot be drawn in terms of the underlying traits of human nature simply; since the response that goes to make up human conduct takes place under institutional norms and only under stimuli that have an institutional bearing; for the situation that provokes and inhibits action in any given case is itself in great part of institutional, cultural derivation. Then, too, the phenomena of human life occur only as phenomena of the life of a group or community; only under stimuli due to contact with the group and only under the (habitual) control exercised by canons of conduct imposed by the group's scheme of life. Not only is the individual's conduct hedged about and directed by his habitual relations to his fellows in the group, but these relations, being of an institutional character, vary as the institutional scheme varies. The wants and desires, the end and aim, the ways and means, the amplitude and drift of the individual's conduct are functions of an institutional variable that is of a highly complex and wholly unstable character.

The growth and mutations of the institutional fabric are an outcome of the conduct of the individual members of the group, since it is out of the experience of the individuals, through the habituation of individuals, that institutions arise; and it is in this same experience that these institutions act to direct and define the aims and end of conduct. It is, of course, on individuals that the system of institutions imposes those conventional standards, ideals, and canons of conduct that make up the community's scheme of life. Scientific inquiry in this field, therefore, must deal with individual conduct and must formulate its theoretical results in terms of individual conduct. But such an inquiry can serve the purposes of a genetic theory only if and in so far as this individual conduct is attended to in those respects in which it counts toward habituation, and so toward change (or stability) of the institutional fabric, on the one hand, and in those respects in which it is prompted and guided by the received institutional conceptions and ideals on the other hand. The postulates of marginal utility, and the hedonistic preconceptions generally, fail at this point in that they confine the attention to such bearings of economic conduct as are conceived not to be conditioned by habitual standards and ideals and to have no effect in the way of habituation. They disregard or abstract from the causal sequence of propensity and habituation in economic life and exclude from theoretical inquiry all such interest in the facts of cultural growth, in order to attend to those features of the case that are conceived to be idle in this respect. All such facts of institutional force and growth are put on one side as not being germane to pure theory; they are to be taken account of, if at all, by afterthought, by a more or less vague and general allowance for inconsequential disturbances due to occasional human infirmity. Certain institutional phenomena, it is true, are comprised among the premises of the hedonists, as has been noted above; but they are included as postulates a priori. So the institution of ownership is taken into the inquiry not as a factor of growth or an element subject to change, but as one of the primordial and immutable facts of the order of nature, underlying the hedonistic calculus. Property, ownership, is presumed as the basis of hedonistic discrimination and it is conceived to be given in its finished (nineteenth-century) scope and force. There is not thought either of a conceivable growth of this definitive nineteenth-century institution out of a cruder past or of any conceivable cumulative change in the scope and force of ownership in the present or future. Nor is it conceived that the presence of this institutional element in men's economic relations in any degree affects or disguises the hedonistic calculus, or that its pecuniary conceptions and standards in any degree standardize, color, mitigate, or divert the hedonistic calculator from the direct and unhampered quest of the net sensuous gain. While the institution of property is included in this way among the postulates of the theory, and is even presumed to be ever-present in the economic situation, it is allowed to have no force in shaping economic conduct, which is conceived to run its course to its hedonistic outcome as if no such institutional factor intervened between the impulse and its realization. The institution of property, together with all the range of pecuniary conceptions that belong under it and that cluster about it, are presumed to give rise to no habitual or conventional canons of conduct or standards of valuation, no proximate ends, ideals, or aspirations. All pecuniary notions arising from ownership are treated simply as expedients of computation which mediate between the pain-cost and the pleasure-gain of hedonistic choice, without lag, leak, or friction; they are conceived simply as the immutably correct, God-given notation of the hedonistic calculus.

The modern economic situation is a business situation, in that economic activity of all kinds is commonly controlled by business considerations. The exigencies of modern life are commonly pecuniary exigencies. That is to say they are exigencies of the ownership of property. Productive efficiency and distributive gain are both rated in terms of price. Business considerations are considerations of price, and pecuniary exigencies of whatever kind in the modern communities are exigencies of price. The current economic situation is a price system. Economic institutions in the modern civilized scheme of life are (prevailing) institutions of the price system. The accountancy to which all phenomena of modern economic life are amenable is an accountancy in terms of price; and by the current convention there is no other recognized scheme of accountancy, no other rating, either in law or in fact, to which the facts of modern life are held amenable. Indeed, so great and pervading a force has this habit (institution) of pecuniary accountancy become that it extends, often as a matter of course, to many facts which properly have no pecuniary bearing and no pecuniary magnitude, as, e.g., works of art, science, scholarship, and religion. More or less freely and fully, the price system dominates the current common sense in its appreciation and rating of these non-pecuniary ramifications of modern culture; and this in spite of the fact that, on reflection, all men of normal intelligence will freely admit that these matters lie outside the scope of pecuniary valuation.

Current popular taste and the popular sense of merit and demerit are notoriously affected in some degree by pecuniary considerations. It is a matter of common notoriety, not to be denied or explained away, that pecuniary ("commercial") tests and standards are habitually made use of outside of commercial interests proper. Precious stones, it is admitted, even by hedonistic economists, are more esteemed than they would be if they were more plentiful and cheaper. A wealthy person meets with more consideration and enjoys a larger measure of good repute than would fall to the share of the same person with the same habit of mind and body and the same record of good and evil deeds if he were poorer. It may well be that this current "commercialization" of taste and appreciation has been overstated by superficial and hasty critics of contemporary life, but it will not be denied that there is a modicum of truth in the allegation. Whatever substance it has, much or little, is due to carrying over into other fields of interest the habitual conceptions induced by dealing with and thinking of pecuniary matters. These "commercial" conceptions of merit and demerit are derived from business experience. The pecuniary tests and standards so applied outside of business transactions and relations are not reducible to sensuous terms of pleasure and pain. Indeed, it may, e.g., be true, as is commonly believed, that the contemplation of a wealthy neighbor's pecuniary superiority yields painful rather than pleasurable sensations as an immediate result; but it is equally true that such a wealthy neighbor is, on the whole, more highly regarded and more considerately treated than another neighbor who differs from the former only in being less enviable in respect of wealth.

It is the institution of property that gives rise to these habitual grounds of discrimination, and in modern times, when wealth is counted in terms of money, it is in terms of money value that these tests and standards of pecuniary excellence are applied. This much will be admitted. Pecuniary institutions induce pecuniary habits of thought which affect men's discrimination outside of pecuniary matters; but the hedonistic interpretation alleges that such pecuniary habits of thought do not affect men's discrimination in pecuniary matters. Although the institutional scheme of the price system visibly dominates the modern community's thinking in matters that lie outside the economic interest, the hedonistic economists insist, in effect, that this institutional scheme must be accounted of no effect within that range of activity to which it owes its genesis, growth, and persistence. The phenomena of business, which are peculiarly and uniformly phenomena of price, are in the scheme of the hedonistic theory reduced to non-pecuniary hedonistic terms and the theoretical formulation is carried out as if pecuniary conceptions had no force within the traffic in which such conceptions originate. It is admitted that preoccupation with commercial interests has "commercialised" the rest of modern life, but the "commercialization" of commerce is not admitted. Business transactions and computations in pecuniary terms, such as loans, discounts, and capitalisation, are without hesitation or abatement converted into terms of hedonistic utility, and conversely.

It may be needless to take exception to such conversion from pecuniary into sensuous terms, for the theoretical purpose for which it is habitually make; although, if need were, it might not be excessively difficult to show that the whole hedonistic basis of such a conversion is a psychological misconception. But it is to the remoter theoretical consequences of such a conversion that exception is to be taken. In making the conversion abstraction is made from whatever elements do not lend themselves to its terms; which amounts to abstracting from precisely those elements of business that have an institutional force and that therefore would lend themselves to scientific inquiry of the modern kind -- those (institutional) elements whose analysis might contribute to an understanding of modern business and of the life of the modern business community as contrasted with the assumed primordial hedonistic calculus.

The point may perhaps be made clearer. Money and the habitual resort to its use are conceived to be simply the ways and means by which consumable goods are acquired, and therefore simply a convenient method by which to procure the pleasurable sensations of consumption; these latter being in hedonistic theory the sole and overt end of all economic endeavor. Money values have therefore no other significance than that of purchasing power over consumable goods, and money is simply an expedient of computation. Investment, credit extensions, loans of all kinds and degrees, with payment of interest and the rest, are likewise taken simply as intermediate steps between the pleasurable sensations of consumption and the efforts induced by the anticipation of these sensations, other bearings of the case being disregarded. The balance being kept in terms of the hedonistic consumption, no disturbance arises in this pecuniary traffic so long as the extreme terms of this extended hedonistic equation -- pain-cost and pleasure-gain -- are not altered, what lies between these extreme terms being merely algebraic notation employed for convenience of accountancy. But such is not the run of the facts in modern business. Variation of capitalization, e.g., occur without its being practicable to refer them to visibly equivalent variations either in the state of the industrial arts or in the sensations of consumption. Credit extensions tend to inflation of credit, rising prices, overstocking of markets, etc., likewise without a visible or securely traceable correlation in the state of the industrial arts or in the pleasures of consumption; that is to say, without a visible basis in those material elements to which the hedonistic theory reduces all economic phenomena. Hence the run of the facts, in so far, must be thrown out of the theoretical formulation. The hedonistically presumed final purchase of consumable goods is habitually not contemplated in the pursuit of business enterprise. Business men habitually aspire to accumulate wealth in excess of the limits of practicable consumption, and the wealth so accumulated is not intended to be converted by a final transaction of purchase into consumable goods or sensations of consumption. Such commonplace facts as these, together with the endless web of business detail of a like pecuniary character, do not in hedonistic theory raise a question as to how these conventional aims, ideals, aspirations, and standards have come into force or how they affect the scheme of life in business or outside of it; they do not raise the questions because such questions cannot be answered in the terms which the hedonistic economists are content to use, or, indeed, which their premises permit them to use. The question which arises is how to explain the facts away; how theoretically to neutralize them so that they will not have to appear in the theory, which can then be drawn indirect and unambiguous terms of rational hedonistic calculation. They are explained away as being aberrations due to oversight or lapse of memory on the part of business men, or to some failure of logic or insight. Or they are construed and interpreted into the rationalistic terms of the hedonistic calculus by resort to an ambiguous use of the hedonistic concepts. So that the whole "money economy", with all the machinery of credit and the rest, disappears in a tissue of metaphors to reappear theoretically expurgated, sterilized, and simplified into a "refined system of barter", culminating in a net aggregate maximum of pleasurable sensations of consumption.

But since it is in just this unhedonistic, unrationalistic pecuniary traffic that the tissue of business life consists, since it is this peculiar conventionalism of aims and standards that differentiates the life of the modern business community from any conceivable earlier or cruder phase of economic life; since it is in this tissue of pecuniary intercourse and pecuniary concepts, ideals, expedients, and aspirations that the conjunctures of business life arise and run their course of felicity and devastation; since it is here that those institutional changes take place which distinguish one phase or era of the business community's life from any other; since the growth and change of these habitual, conventional elements make the growth and character of any business era or business community; any theory of business which sets these elements aside or explains them away misses the main facts which it has gone out to seek. Life and its conjunctures and institutions being of this complexion, however much that state of the case may be depreciated, a theoretical account of the phenomena of this life must be drawn in these terms in which the phenomena occur. It is not simply that the hedonistic interpretation of modern economic phenomena is inadequate or misleading; if the phenomena are subjected to the hedonistic interpretation in the theoretical analysis they disappear from the theory; and if they would bear the interpretation in fact they would disappear in fact. If, in fact, all the conventional relations and principles of pecuniary intercourse were subject to such a perpetual rationalized, calculating revision, so that each article of usage, appreciation, or procedure must approve itself de novo on hedonistic grounds of sensuous expediency to all concerned at every move, it is not conceivable that the institutional fabric would last over night. more

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Better than the Li-Ion Battery?


Recently I tried to write a small survival guide for finding the good stuff on the internet. I called it Epistemology in the age of "fake news." Considering I spent most of my adult life composing that little essay, that was a remarkably lame title�I tend to forget that epistemology is not everyone's pet idea and to combine that with a trendy notion like "fake news" means that I am open to any better suggestions.

But the idea of fact-bricks is sound and I just found a pretty good example of how they can be used to evaluate a news story like the one below. Essentially the news is that one of the co-inventors of the lithium-ion battery has discovered (invented) a major improvement. The new battery will replace the li-ion's liquid / gel electrolyte with glass�which would be a major improvement in safety. Lithium would be replaced with sodium which is almost infinitely cheaper and easier to access.

Cheaper? safer? Wait there's more! The new batteries supposedly will charge much faster and be three times as energy dense. This means a car with a 200 mile range with Li-ion would have a 600 mile range with a similar-sized pack of the new batteries. This last claim is the most significant and also the one that triggered my BS sensors.

Here are the relevant fact-bricks as I see them.
  1. Historically, batteries have gotten better in small steps. A 300% improvement is an enormous leap. Show me. The producer class is about demonstration.
  2. 94 year-old guys tend to be well past their significant accomplishments in life.
  3. What works in theory or even in a lab is difficult to translate into a mass-produced consumer device. And even those products that make the leap take significant time to work out the kinks�17 years for the fluorescent bulb, for example.
On the plus side.
  1. This is an example of evolutionary improvement. Basically the only kind there is.
  2. It IS possible that someone who has devoted his life-energy to a subject just might have a final creative burst in his chosen field�even at 94.
  3. Storage is the key to making solar energy useful. If the funding is there, commercialization of this technology could happen in a much shorter time-frame than usual.
My conclusion: I will withhold judgment on the validity of the basic idea but because the chemistry is possible I will continue to follow the story. I don't expect to see these batteries for sale at Costco or Home Depot in less than five years even if everything goes right.

The 94-Year-Old Inventor Of The Lithium-Ion Battery Just Came Up With Something Better

John Goodenough is back with a new, longer-lasting battery that charges faster�and won't explode.

CHARLIE SORREL 03.06.17

The inventor of the lithium-ion battery�which is likely powering the device you're reading this on right now�is 94 years old. But that hasn't slowed down John Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin, who clearly didn't think that his previous world-changing invention was good enough. He's just invented a sequel: a better battery that lasts longer, charges faster, doesn't use any lithium, and won't explode.

One of the key components of a battery is its energy density�the amount of power it can hold for a given size and weight. That's important for keeping a slim smartphone alive all day, but it's even more important for electric cars, where a lot of a battery's energy is wasted just to move its own weight. Goodenough's new battery, developed in partnership with Cockrell School of Engineering senior research fellow Maria Helena Braga, has three times the energy density of li-ion, which means that for the same weight of batteries, a car would have three times the range.

Not only that but because Goodenough's new batteries are solid, not liquid, they're safer. If charged too quickly, a lithium-ion battery can form "metal whiskers" through its gel-filled cells, and these can short out the battery bit by bit, reducing its life, or even causing an explosion. Goodenough and Braga's new battery instead uses a kind of glass as a medium to carry the current from the positive to the negative side of the battery, which prevents these whiskers from forming.

The design incorporates other changes that increase the life of the battery. A lithium-ion battery might manage, at most, 500 power cycles�in which the battery goes from zero to full charge and back. In the lab, the Goodenough's new batteries have been cycled over 1,200 times. And because it is solid-state, the battery isn't susceptible to the cold. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, which lose functionality at -4�F, the new battery can operate down to -76�F.

Lack of advancement in battery technology is holding back all kinds of innovations. A super battery could, for instance, power a smartphone that lasts all week, like dumb phones used to. But they'll also be crucial in making the shift from gas to electric cars. Solar powering our own homes is also an option when you have high-storage, safe batteries in the garage or basement, to spread out the sun's juice though the night.

Lithium-ion batteries are arguably the invention that made modern portable computing possible, so it seems fitting that their creator may have come up with a breakthrough to fuel the next tech revolution. more

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mark Ames explains US / Russia relations


Around 1993, I met an interesting old codger who was living with his wife in a old converted one-room schoolhouse. Almost immediately he got on my good side by expressing his belief that the Vietnam War had been a vicious con on USA's young men. Not long after that, I discovered that in his younger days of employment, he had been a professor of Russian / USSR studies. Russian history is a favorite hobby but living in the middle of the North American continent, I don't meet many people who know anything about the subject. I was quite excited.

Soon the thrill of exchanging ideas was replaced by the disappointing realization that he thought USSR's conversion to "democracy" was going swimmingly, that Boris Yeltsin was a brave patriot who was doing everything in his power to prevent Russia from sliding back into Communism, and that reports of corruption could be easily dismissed as the growing pains of the new order. The fact that USA flew in 88 yo heart surgeon Dr. Michael DeBakey to manage Yeltsin's heart treatment was simply a sign of our willingness to help. About this time someone told me not to be shocked because virtually all Russian Studies profs in USA have significant links to CIA. I have NO idea if this is true in this case but he was pretty steadfast in defending that party line. We lost touch shortly thereafter.

Of course, none of his beliefs about Russia were remotely true. The neoliberals from Harvard who landed the fat contract to re-engineer the USSR were so corrupt that eventually they lost the contract and some were charged with corruption by the Justice Department. Jeffrey Sachs, the w�nderkind who had caused major disasters in Bolivia and Poland led their charge. The most serious results of this economics of Predation was that average male life expectancy dropped from 64 to 57 between 1990 and 1994.

Mark Ames, who was living in Moscow during this chaos, relates the story of what happened in the video below. The numbers of those in the USA who know this story is essentially zero. And yet, since the outcome was the rise to power of Vladimir Putin�the current public enemy #1�this is NOT a trivial story. It is also a story that virtually every Russian knows in great detail.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Epistemology in the age of "fake news"


Being accused of peddling fake news by the New York Times or the Washington Post is like being called smelly by a hog.
Me

I love the internet. Never before in human history has it been so easy to access accurate and helpful information. And when folks assure me that 99% of what is on the internet is pure BS, I can only smile and say "but the good news is that the remaining 1% is so vast and comprehensive it defies meaningful comprehension." Of course that leads to the BIG PROBLEM: How does one tell the difference between the 99% BS and the 1% good stuff?

Not long ago a bright young man asked me that very question with a look of panic on his face. What good is an infinity of information without an accurate way to tell which factoid will lead to a lifetime of confusion and wasted effort, and which will assist in finding answers that make life's journey more understandable, fulfilling, and productive?

Quite honestly, I was taken aback by his excellent question. Mostly it's because I almost never think about it anymore. My "rules" for separating the wheat from the chaff were formulated one summer night over 35 years ago while driving a sports car on some moonlit back roads at extralegal speeds. A college roommate who had gotten a philosophy degree was along for the ride and we were discussing the essential failures of philosophic thought. His take was that the big-name philosophers all tried to create a huge, all-encompassing world-view. The problem with this approach is that as humanity acquired more information, these newly discovered details tended to rip huge holes in some grandiose descriptions of how the world works. Poor Aristotle�his sweeping philosophy that acted as a lodestar for the last 2300 years has been filled so full of factual holes that nothing is left. Even his logic, which is still taught, has been made hopelessly obsolete. So the question becomes, "when you cannot even trust Aristotle, how exactly do you find your way?"

Like a lightening bolt it came to me. Instead of searching for the big answers, why not concentrate on those little answers that cannot be refuted. Think like a builder! Treat your irrefutable facts like bricks or timber. They may be plain and simple yet with enough of them, you can build a beautiful and mighty structure. Even better, if you are sure about the quality of the parts, the likelihood increases dramatically that the final edifice built from those parts will be sound. Moreover, if someone comes to you with an idea that contradicts one or more of your fact-bricks, you can be certain that the whole idea is nonsense and will fail.



My favorite example of what can be built with humble warehouse bricks
the Gruntvig church in Copenhagen

I treasure my simple little fact-bricks and have collected 1000s of them since that night. It turns out that no matter how small and seemingly obvious, there is no such thing as an unimportant fact. Take for example the following: Left to its own devices, water runs down hill. Well duh! Yet this simple fact is the basis for dozens of skills and professions from farmer, roofer, and plumber, to the city planner, flood control designer, or architect. Take this thought to its ultimate extreme and you have Holland where 1/8 of the country is actually below sea level because the Dutch refuse to leave water to its own devices.

By far, my favorite fact-brick is: If you want to harvest a crop in the fall, you must plant in the spring. This one is especially important because it teaches that while the natural order is critically important, the food only happens after the ground is prepared and the seeds are sown. Farmers are as important as fertile soils and timely rainfall. It also tells us that the creation of real wealth takes time. It explains why get-rich-quick schemes are invariably fraudulent.

One way to increase one's collection of fact-bricks is to learn the basic scientific laws. It is amazing how much can be explained by "force equals mass times acceleration" or "gases expand when heated." The really cool thing about the basic rules is that they tend to be universal. The reason we can maneuver space probes to take close-ups of Jupiter's moons is because gravity works the same as on earth. Know a few dozen of these fact-bricks and you will sense an underlying order even if the world gets crazy.

History poses an interesting problem. It is quite necessary to have a basic understanding of how the world got to be the way it is. To be historically illiterate is to be condemned to think forever as a child. Unfortunately, most historical accounts are written to flatter the victors in some struggle. And that's when conditions are good. MOST history was lost forever the minute after it happened. So most of what passes for history is horribly biased and woefully incomplete.

Most of what I consider historical fact-bricks are related to sequence. Favorite example: The last use of cast-iron canons happened in the US Civil War which ended in 1865. By 1870, the canon had been replaced with rifled artillery which the Prussians used to destroy the French Army at the Battle of Sedan. The lesson here is not that the Prussians won or that the Second French Empire was ended, the lesson is that advances in steel-making would forever shatter primary concepts of warfare�even though the new lessons were still not learned by 1914. (The preservation of archaic traits seems SOP for the human race�especially its leisure classes.) Anyway, if you only keep your timelines in order, the rest of history is mostly details.

So that's how I navigate through the infinite mass of information. I try to update my fact-brick collection as often as possible. And my ever-evolving collection of facts collectively makes up my BS filter. It is very effective. In over 2700 posts here at real-economics, I can think of none that cannot be factually defended. If there were errors, I have gone back and fixed them. In the age of the internet, there is no excuse for getting things wrong.

Not surprisingly, I am most comfortable in the worlds of the Producer classes. The kind of reliable honesty I appreciate the most is also the quality necessary to become a premium builder. Last week I listened as my brother, who was no slouch as a builder, marveled at the specialized skills he had encountered in his career as a construction supervisor, "Sure there are bums in the construction business, but there is also an astonishing collection of pure genius. These are people who make the nearly impossible look routine. These are people who absolutely HATE BS because it makes their jobs more difficult." People sometimes complain about the accuracy of Wikipedia entries. In the Producer corners�inaccuracy is rarely a problem. Google "difference between P-51B and P-51D" if you need an example of how facts about the difficult-to-build are handled.

Keep in mind that Producers value honesty because they see it more clearly. For example, the preacher who promises eternal life or the economist who asserts that continuous geometric growth in a finite biosphere is possible will always seem able to come up with an answer (excuse?) whenever their assertions are challenged with contrary evidence. A structural engineer who specifies a 10" beam when a 20" one was necessary has no hiding place when the building falls down.

Even better, getting the "little" facts straight is certainly not the be-all and end-all of the Producer consciousness. There have been some great big-picture thinkers in their ranks. But perhaps the most interesting was Charles Sanders Peirce who is considered the father of Pragmatism. Yes, I know, pragmatism is used by sloppy academics and journalists to describe some narrowly-focused ethical illiterate who thinks it pragmatic to ruin the lives of thousands so that Wal-Mart's profits will be a little higher next quarter. Fortunately, Pierce's Pragmatism is WAY more complex and nuanced (follow the link).

The key to understanding his incredible contributions to human thought is to understand something very simple�perhaps the most interesting goal in personal development is a desire and willingness to update your worldview when new evidence appears. Continuous improvement is a powerful idea�for example, it is the core operating assumption of Toyota and they are now the largest carmaker on earth owing mostly to their hard-won reputation for build-excellence and reliability. The idea is that if something isn't working, try something else. Unfortunately, this idea puts the Pragmatists in direct opposition to any and all people who believe reality should be forced unto preconceived explanations�the religious nuts of all manifestations.

Thorstein Veblen is arguably Peirce's best-known student. And in 1898, he put the economics profession on notice that people with an understanding of evolutionary principles were not impressed by the claims that economics was a science in a little gem called Why is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science. Of course Veblen was absolutely correct�economics is rarely a science and it is almost never an evolutionary one. Folks who go around quoting Adam Smith or Karl Marx are rarely into continuous improvement.

So that's it. Grow to respect the "little" truths. Leave yourself open to continuous improvement. And pretty soon you will have a BS filter that will allow you to harvest the riches of the internet without wasting your time on a bunch of wild goose chases. Soon you will discover that those who yammer on the loudest about fake news tend to have sorry examples of their own to justify. Yes, NYT, Washington Post, the Economist, WSJ, network TV, cable news, and the rest of the sorry lot, I AM talking about you.

Climate Grief

Below is a pretty good description of what the author calls "climate grief"�the crushing realization that everything at all lovely...