Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Nice-Left in One Picture.


Dedicated to Social Democrats, Democrats, Third-Wayers, Fabians, Frankfurt Schoolers, Laborites, Greens, Liberal Democrats, Syriza, and such.

(source)

h/t Mike Norman (from MNE)

Non-threatening, cute, young, nice smile, nice hair, probably well-spoken, reasonable, educated, philosophically-minded, middle-class but upwardly mobile, in two words: politically acceptable.

Only a couple of things missing in the Kensian Left.






Sunday, 29 March 2015

A Short View of "A Short View". (iii)

(From part ii)

How could worldviews commonly regarded as antagonistic, as those represented by Keynes and Mises/Rand, coincide in such a fundamental manner?

Lord Skidelsky, Keynes’ respected biographer, offers a measured and carefully worded indirect answer:
"There was clearly a tension between its [Bloomsbury Set’s] cultural ideals and democratic sentiment: civilisation, as Clive Bell put it, always rested on having someone to do the dirty work. Maynard Keynes, as we shall see, attempted to go beyond this contradiction; but it cannot be claimed he got very far. And he, like the rest of the Bloomsberries, depended completely on domestic servants to sustain their own lives [cf. Peter Clarke’s comments in Liberals and Social Democrats]. Bloomsbury was rooted in the class assumptions of the Victorians. Their revision of the Victorian scheme of life tended to take them back to the eighteenth century idea of a cultured aristocracy rather than towards the ideal of a civilized democracy". (“John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed 1883-1920”, pp. 248-250)
Whatever later commentators might argue, the Bloomsberries’ beliefs and ideals, writes Skidelsky, were not the product of dispassionate philosophizing: they were rooted in their social context. What holds true to them and Keynes, also holds true to Nietzsche, Mises, Rand.

Ironically, one of the real, but unmentioned, targets of Keynes’ ideological tantrum would probably have agreed with Skidelsky: Keynes must be judged within his social, economic, and historic context.

Karl Marx:
"I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense coleur de rose.  My standing point, from which the evolution of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he socially remains, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them". (“Das Kapital”, vol. 1, preface to the 1867 edition).
Keynes wasn’t creating anything new in moral and political philosophy, just giving expression to his class’ pre-existing views of society and of his fellow human beings: the same views Nietzsche articulated before, and Rand and Mises would echo decades later.

----------

By 1925, in the middle of the Roaring Twenties (perhaps the last hurrah of the Belle Epoque), the class views Keynes reflected, while cheerful, were not untroubled. The previous year, Calvin Coolidge was elected U.S. President. His campaign slogan describes the times: "Coolidge Prosperity".

Across the pond, Keynes -- perhaps with more than a little bravado -- puzzled over the appeal of “Leninism”: “It is hard for an educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe to find his ideals here, unless he has first suffered some strange and horrid process of conversion which has changed all his values”.

The income figures Thomas Piketty and others compiled shed some light on Keynes’ optimism and puzzlement with any discontent:

(source)

In other words (by interpolation between 1919 and 1937), in 1925 a member of the British 1% perceived a gross income (in Piketty’s definition) equivalent to about 25.0 times the average for the remainder 99%: a remarkable difference. Keynes -- the self-described "educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe" and financial speculator -- had little reason to feel uncomfortable and one cannot blame him for fearing that could come to an end.

Upton Sinclair, an American journalist and another eye-witness of the last days of the Belle Epoque, could have added: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

It's on this light that Keynes' oft-quoted appeal to the “ideas of economists and political philosophers” reveals itself in all its self-justifying glory:
I am sure the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas Soon or late it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."
Another English economist -- one much closer to Keynes -- would have disagreed with Keynes on that and, instead, would have proposed the primacy of vested interests and prejudices in determining economic wisdom:
"Anyone who says to you: 'Believe me, I have no prejudices,' is either succeeding in deceiving himself or trying to deceive you." (Joan Robinson, "Economic Philosophy", p. 26)
There is little difference between Keynes' "pratical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist" and "the Devil made me do it".

You don't need a Ouija board to understand how Keynes, Mises, Nietzsche and others could coincide at a fundamental level; a materialist conception of history is more than enough.

 (To be continued)

Friday, 27 March 2015

AC/DC: "Back in Black".


Say what you will, I still get all pumped up hearing Acca Dacca.


Sue me.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A Short View of "A Short View". (ii)

(From Part i)

Why Keynes -- reputedly one of 20th century's greatest economic minds -- did not provide any economic figure, any fact, or analysis, in support of his allegations, and, instead, was happy to pen a piece of bullying, worthy of a Jeremy Clarkson?

A careful reading of the essay suggests an answer: unlike Clarkson, Keynes had no reason to fear a backlash.

Expressing himself for public consumption, the appearances-conscious Keynes wasn’t entirely forthcoming on the causes of his evident displeasure, but there was a deep personal grievance behind Keynes’ essay, a grievance he shared with members of the Western bourgeoisie.

Understandably so: an intellectual and patron of the arts, a prominent eugenicist (Keynes would serve from 1937 to 1944 as head of the Eugenics Society), and aspiring member of the British bourgeoisie, the future 1st Baron Keynes (made hereditary peer in 1942) could not have enjoyed what he witnessed in “Russia”.

Judging by his own words, repeated 3 times for emphasis, this is what irked Lord Keynes the most:
  1. How can I adopt a creed which, preferring the mud to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement?
  2. In one respect Communism but follows other famous religions. It exalts the common man and makes him everything.
  3. The exaltation of the common man is a dogma which has caught the multitude before now. Any religion and the bond which unites co-religionists have power against the egotistic atomism of the irreligious.
Speaking in the first person, Keynes declares the deepest cause of his outrage: “Leninism” exalts the “mud, the “boorish proletariat”, the “common man” (synonymous, for Keynes). Not him. Keynes -- and presumably his peers -- the “fish”, the member of the “intelligentsia” and aspiring “bourgeois” (“the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement”) is no longer the navel of the universe. The rabble daring to challenge the Olympian men (in Nietzsche's admiring description).

That was his deep, personal grievance: the loss of social standing and control.

He wasn't the first to fear the day of reckoning. Before the Russian Revolution, others felt the same; the economist Knut Wicksell (who influenced Keynes personally), among them. How could Keynes, seeing the beast up close, have felt differently? 

----------

Over 30 years later, a member of the now extinct petty provincial aristocracy from Central Europe would write this praise:
“You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: you are inferior and all the improvements in your condition which you simply take for granted you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.”
Those words, echoing Keynes, could have been addressed to him … but they weren't.

The starry-eyed fan behind them was not one of Keynes’ devotees; in fact, he radically disagreed with him on economic doctrine (e.g. “What he really did was to write an apology for the prevailing policies of governments”).

Baron Keynes ("I do not mean that Russian Communism alters, or even seeks to alter, human nature, that it makes Jews less avaricious or Russians less extravagant") did not live to witness the unintended  (?) snub, but in those lines Ludwig Heinrich, Edler (Baronet) von Mises was complimenting  Russian-born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum -- Ayn Rand -- on the publication of “Atlas Shrugged”.

Both Mises and Rand, like Keynes himself, were unconditional in their support for "the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement"; both of them, non-religious Jews.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Short View of "A Short View". (i)


Upon returning to England from a 1925 fact-finding mission to the Soviet Union, Keynes published the scathingly critical essay "A Short View of Russia".

Included in the acclaimed 1931 anthology “Essays in Persuasion” (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd; here and here), that essay is, strangely, often forgotten by Keynes’ fans.

So, I thought I’d give it a try. I shall report my findings in this and in a few future posts.

The essay is divided in two parts. The first (entitled "What is the Communist Faith?”) opens thus:
"Leninism is a combination of two things which Europeans have kept for some centuries in different compartments of the soul -- religion and business. We are shocked because the religion is new, and contemptuous because the business, being subordinated to the religion instead of the other way round, is highly inefficient.
“Like other new religions … ".
Keynes comes out, guns blazing: without argument, he repeatedly highlights a perceived identity between religion and "Leninism" in “Russia”. Which is curious in itself: Stalin had been running the show in the Soviet Union since Lenin’s stroke in 1922. After Lenin’s death in 1924 (the year before Keynes' visit), he simply was the “boss”. Did Keynes find those details unimportant?

Perhaps. Indeed, judging by the numerous occurrences in his essay of the word “religion” and variants (40 instances of the string “relig”, plus 5 instances of the word “faith”), one must conclude that either the characterization of “Leninism” as religion was Keynes’ core message -- like Cato the Elder’s “Carthago delenda est” mantra -- or he, like Richard Dawkins, must have been morbidly obsessed with religions.

Instead of a proper argument, Keynes lists several unflattering similarities between "Leninism" and religion (e.g. “like other new religions, it is filled with missionary ardour and ecumenical ambitions”, “volatile experimentalists”, "cynicism", "hypocrisy", "intolerance", “early Christians led by Attila were using the equipment of the Holy Inquisition and the Jesuit missions to enforce the literal economics of the New Testament -- one wonders why didn't Keynes mention Vlad Tepes? -- among others).

Visiting one of the poorest, most backwards countries in early 20th century Europe, devastated by over 8 years war, Keynes, with astonishing perspicacity, even detected that “it [“Leninism”] seems to take the colour and gaiety and freedom out of everyday life”. It couldn’t have been any other thing, for Keynes, but “Leninism”!

Regardless, with the benefit of hindsight, one must acknowledge truth in Keynes’ endless list; with the same experience careful readers may have noticed that Keynes, his followers, and Keynesianism have frequently been targets of similar remarks.

Furthermore, a careful search would yield surprising unguarded admissions:



But this is an uninteresting exercise. Even if real, similarity does not prove identity: fools’ gold is no gold, whatever the swindler’s claims to the contrary. The identity between “Leninism” and religion, which Keynes is intent on selling, is far from obvious.

Instead, it would be interesting to understand why Keynes chose to express himself in that - let's say -- flamboyant manner.

(To be continued)

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Andrew Kliman on Marx’s Capital and the TSSI.

(source)

"Reclaiming Marx’s Capital", by Prof. Andrew Kliman. From the Introduction:
“This book seeks to reclaim Marx’s Capital from the century-old myth of internal inconsistency. Since internally inconsistent arguments cannot possibly be right, efforts to return to and further develop Marx’s critique of political economy, in its original form, cannot succeed so long as this myth persists. The myth serves as the principal justification for the suppression and ‘correction’ of Marx’s theories of value, profit, and economic crisis. It also facilitates the splinttering of what was, originally, a political-economic-philosophical totality into a variety of mutually indifferent Marxian projects.
Logical considerations compel none of this. As this book shows, Marx’s theories need not be interpreted in a way that renders them internally inconsistent. An alternative interpretation developed during the last quarter-century—-the temporal single system interpretation (TSSI)--eliminates all of the apparent inconsistencies. The very existence of the TSSI carries with it two important consequences. First, the allegations of inconsistency are unproved. Second, they are implausible. When one interpretation makes the text make sense, while others fail to do so because they create avoidable inconsistencies within the text, it is not plausible that the latter interpretations are correct. Thus the charges of inconsistency, founded on these interpretations, are implausible as well.
“None of this implies that Marx’s theoretical conclusions are necessarily correct. It does imply, however, that empirical investigation is needed in order to determine whether they are correct or not. There is no justification for disqualifying his theories a priori, on logical grounds.”

----------

John Bates Clark and Knut Wicksell had their own reasons to advance a theoretical argument against Marxism: deny the need for social change. They, like expensive defense attorneys, were interested in arguing for their client’s absolution. The arguments of the prosecution had to be countered.

That’s easy to understand. A lot harder to understand are the reasons behind Marxists' willingness to accept the defense attorneys' critiques of Marx..

Friday, 20 March 2015

“Blade Runner”.


Together with “2001: A Space Odyssey”, but in a different way, Ridley Scott’s 1982 “Blade Runner” (based on the 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” by Philip K. Dick), starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young, is another of my all-time favourite sci-fi movies.

Without giving away too much on its plot, in my opinion, the film combines deeply human reflections about the inevitability of death and about what the human condition entails, with clearly political elements of Nietzschean thought: the slave/master, Übermensch/Untermensch contrast.

This scene, however, gives an unexpected twist to everything Nietzschean in the film:


After acknowledging the distinction Übermensch/Untermensch, Scott seems to ask his viewers “who’s who”? It's clear who is the Übermensch and who is the Untermensch, but who is the master and who, the slave?

----------

From Vangelis’ superb soundtrack, “Blade Runner” end titles:



I imagine the world’s most reviled, slandered man, born in Trier, would have smiled. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

What on Earth is Capital? (ii)

A previous post commented on the habit -- frequent among mainstream economists -- of focusing on the numerical/quantitative aspect of capital, to the exclusion of its qualitative aspects.

That’s why a fairly rich definition of capital, which I repeat here for emphasis:
"Capital. 1 Assets which are capable of generating income and which have themselves been produced. Capital is one of the four FACTORS OF PRODUCTION, and consists of the machines, plant and buildings that make production possible, but excludes raw materials, LAND and LABOUR. (…)
"2. In more general usage, any asset or stock of assets - financial or physical - capable of generating income." (Bannock, et al, 1992)
Shrinks to a list of easily quantifiable items:
“A firm uses a technology or production process to transform inputs or factors of production into outputs. Firms use many types of inputs. Most of these inputs can be grouped into three broad categories:
Capital (K): Long-lived inputs such as land, buildings (factories, stores), and equipment (machines, trucks).”
(…) (Perloff, 2004)
Note the loss of information: the first sentence in meaning #1 in the dictionary entry disappears; there’s no reference to production; you don't see the words “financial” or “physical”; land no longer is a separate “factor of production”.

----------

One finds an understandable, but ultimately unfortunate, reaction to that in explanations like this, popular among some Marxists:
“Capital is not a thing; it is a social relationship. (…) Marx understood everything as a relationship/process, that is why he did not simply talk about labour as such, but rather the labour process/relation. Capital was not a thing for Marx, but rather a relationship.” (…) 
Just like Perloff's “capital items list”, the Marxist commentator focuses single-mindedly in one aspect of capital: Perloff has things easily quantifiable in mind (which we’ve seen is an error); perhaps to compensate for that error, the author of the Marxist explanation is fixated on unquantifiable things (for instance, social relationships/processes).

In other words, the popularised Marxist explanation seems to mean not so much “capital is not a thing; it is a social relationship” as “capital is not a thing; it is only a social relationship”: a mirror image of the mainstream partial view of capital.

But that cannot be what Marx thought.

Unlike many mainstream economists, Marx understood that there are subtleties in the definition of capital. To the ethical, legal and political dimensions (mentioned in the previous post) Marx added at least sociological and historical considerations: unlike capitalists, workers work in exchange for wages only since capitalist relations of production became widespread; they do so as a way to making a living; their views, behaviours, interests are conditioned by that fact and in this they differ from capitalists and other supposedly transient classes (like the lumpenproletariat).

Unlike the Marxist commentator, however, Marx did not deny capital had a quantifiable dimension. I will not advance any quote as evidence, but instead will offer a challenge: insert a “social relationship” in the denominator of Marx’s rate of profit. Until you can explain constant and variable capitals as anything other than quantitative measures, I’ll stick to my guns.

References

Bannock, G., R.E., B. and Evan, D. (1992). Capital. In: The Penguin Dictionary of Economics, 5th ed. London: Penguin Books Ltd., p.56.

Perloff, J. (2004). Microeconomics. 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson Addison Wesley, pp.150-151.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Bits and Pieces (V): Syriza Edition.


Three years ago, Syriza refused an invitation by Antonis Samaras (New Democracy/PASOK Coalition) to join them in a coalition government (see here).

Why was Samaras interested in having Syriza onboard and why did Syriza refuse that?

Samaras presumably did not want to have an active and sizeable left opposition; Syriza presumably they did not believe the Coalition's policies would work and did not want to support them.

It was a good decision, too, as their electoral victory proves.

----------

A Syriza MP and professor of economics, Costas Lapavitsas (h/t Bill Mitchell), has given an interesting interview to Jacobin.

In view of the rather clear failure of Yanis Varoufakis' initial approach (which perhaps one could describe as the reasoned, polite, dialogue between elites), Lapavitsas says:
"[T]he obvious solution for Greece right now, when I look at it as a political economist, the optimal solution, would be a negotiated exit. Not necessarily a contested exit, but a negotiated exit."
That's a positive sign, and I believe this could sound good to the Greek Communist Party (KKE), too: after all, it was part of their platform (although it most definitely wasn't part of Syriza's platform, or Varoufakis' preferences).

However, the Greek people voted for Syriza and its platform, not for the KKE. Syriza did not campaign for a Grexit, the KKE did. It would take some humility and a public mea culpa from Syriza and a decided turn to the left to explain voters that their platform was mistaken and that the KKE was right all along, at least on that.

----------

This leads us to an unfortunate comment in Lapavistas' interview; apparently he resents the KKE not joining Syriza in a coalition government:
"What's at stake and what's at issue among the non-Syriza left is a fear of power. It masquerades and hides itself behind big words. In the case of the Communist Party, every other word is about workers' power."
Given that "Grexit" was one "big word" in the KKE platform, that it was right on that and Syriza wrong, Lapavitsas' attitude doesn't bode well. Perhaps a more sincere approach and a decisive move to the left would be more successful, otherwise, the same reasons against joining the Samaras Coaltion, will assist the KKE in not joining Syriza.

----------

As God is my witness, I understand the Syriza-led government's predicament. I wish them luck, too, if not for themselves, for the Greek people and the Greek left.

But the truth is that these guys have come up these last few days with really dumb ideas. First it was Panos Kammenos' threat of letting illegal migrants (including Islamist fundamentalists) free passage through Greece (Kammenos is not a member of Syriza, but of the right-wing Independent Greeks, junior Coalition partner).

Then it was the turn of Nikos Paraskevopoulos, the Minister for Justice, to push forward the Nazi war crimes reparation button in such a way as to make sure their opponents had the claim those are "acts of desperation":
"In Brussels, the endgame over Greece's continued euro-zone membership has begun. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is trapped between his campaign promise to put an end to EU-imposed austerity and his rapidly emptying state coffers. Meanwhile, his government's tone has become increasingly shrill."
The Syriza guys are giving arguments to neo-Nazis and their fellow travellers all over the world (see comments thread here). Don't you people have any advisors?

Friday, 13 March 2015

Public Service Broadcasting…


This is a public service broadcast… the race for space began…

1957: Sputnik



1960-1970s: Apollo Program



2015: Public Service Broadcasting (or here), The Race for Space: Really cool.


----------

Frankly, I am deeply skeptical about the Mars One project. I, however, sympathise wholeheartedly with those brave souls who volunteered to go to Mars, and I wish the finalists, particularly the Australian Dianne McGrath and Josh, the best of lucks.

Whatever the final outcome of this story, my best wishes to all of you.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

What on Earth is Capital? (i)


There are many possible answers to the question above. Here we’ll be concerned with three of them.

One answer (all the rage among the economic fashionistas) is that capital is whatever they say. We’ve already discussed this and there’s no point repeating that.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of Economics, the second answer, which virtually every economics student learns during first year at uni, goes something like:
"Capital. 1 Assets which are capable of generating income and which have themselves been produced. Capital is one of the four FACTORS OF PRODUCTION, and consists of the machines, plant and buildings that make production possible, but excludes raw materials, LAND and LABOUR. (…)
"2. In more general usage, any asset or stock of assets - financial or physical - capable of generating income."
That is -- it seems -- a deceptively clear and simple definition. It involves the twice mentioned notions of (1) asset (presupposing private property, with all the concomitant rights conferred to its proprietor: the rights to “consume, alter, share, redefine, rent, mortgage, pawn, sell, exchange, transfer, give away or destroy it, or to exclude others from doing these things”, here); and (2) that it is capable of generating income (presupposing a commercial usage of the assets).

Let’s illustrate that: John Travolta owns a Boeing 707-138. Question: Is that plane a capital good?

Answer: It depends. Obviously, the plane is his private property (he can use, sell, re-paint, burn, or give her away). The plane is in his balance sheet: it’s Travolta’s asset. In that sense, that Boeing is no different from any other asset, like Travolta’s fridge or watch.

That, however, is not enough to identify that specific plane as an item of capital. To have the label “capital” attached to it, the plane must be employed commercially to produce a stream of income: commercial usage plus income are the glue making the label stick. Apparently Travolta does not use his plane commercially. Lacking that, the label “capital” falls, even if the label “asset” remains.

The same applies to a car, for instance: Cars of the same make and model are used commercially as taxis to produce income (capital goods), or as family cars. I could extend the list, but I’m sure you get the idea.

In fact, this should be no news. Thomas Piketty’s general inclusion of housing as "capital" in his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, for instance, was the target of that criticism from the get go. James K.Galbraith:
“First, he conflates physical capital equipment with all forms of money-valued wealth, including land and housing, whether that wealth is in productive use or not.”
----------

There are subtleties even in the superficially straightforward mainstream definition of capital. Capital is not a thing, even under that definition: there’s a dimension to capital transcending the economic and heading into the ethical, legal, and political. One cannot see a spanner and conclude with certainty that it’s a capital good.

That often mainstream economists (and, just as often, their critics) ignore these subtleties is a different matter. 

This brings us to the fearsome Marxist answer to the opening question. We'll leave that for a future post.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Vangelis: "Pulstar".


This is what a pulsar (formerly, "pulstar") is: link.

This is what it looks like, in theory:

[A]

This what it looks like, in reality:

[B]

This is how it sounds like, to me:



Composed by Vangelis, "Pulstar" was included in his 1976 album "Albedo 0.39".

----------

Darkness and light on Ceres, by Dawn:

[C]


Image Credits:
[A] "Schematic view of a pulsar. The sphere in the middle represents the neutron star, the curves indicate the magnetic field lines and the protruding cones represent the emission zones". Author: Mysid. Source: Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. My usage of the file does not suggest in any way its author endorsement of me or my use of the work.
[B] "A composite image of the Crab Nebula showing the X-ray (blue), and optical (red) images superimposed. The size of the X-ray image is smaller because the higher energy X-ray emitting electrons radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower energy optically emitting electrons as they move."  Author: Optical: NASA/HST/ASU/J. Hester et al. X-Ray: NASA/CXC/ASU/J. Hester et al. Source: Wikipedia. This file is in the public domain.
[C] "Ceres awaits Dawn" (Feb 19, 2015). Author: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA. Source: Wikipedia This file is in the public domain.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Apple’s Broken Promises.

(source)
Five years after the Foxconn suicides, Apple is again under the spotlight.
“Shi Zhaokun was 15 when he left his village [Hou Jia Pu, 1,000 km from Shanghai]… At the end of that month, he died.”
The quote is from the BBC’s Panorama documentary “Apple’s Broken Promises” (also), by Richard Bilton, broadcast locally by ABC’s Four Corners last Monday. The documentary reports on the working conditions of Chinese and Indonesian workers involved in the production of Apple products and in the extraction of tin used as raw materials.


----------

Young Shi’s father, Shi Zengqiang, was informed by his son’s employer he had worked 280 hours in 4 weeks in the iPhone production lines.

Undercover reporters sent by the Panorama team to work at one of the Apple contractors, Pegatron, secretly filmed exhausted workers falling asleep at work. Their footage tells a worse story:
Undercover reporter telling a Pegatron supervisor: “Working hours are too long, too long. From 8 in the morning to 1 or 2 at night - that's too much for anyone.”
Pegatron supervisor to his team: “If you fall asleep and you lean against machines that are connected with electricity and there is a live wire and you will be gone.”
Bilton:
“It was the sheer volume of work that overwhelmed our reporters. One had to work 18 days in a row, despite repeated requests for a day off. He was working more than 70 hours a week and that's dangerous.”
----------

What are the economics behind this?

Bilton (quoting figures from IHS, “product analysis company”:
“The workers in Pegatron earn the Shanghai minimum wage about a pound an hour. We were told they work long and illegal hours because it's the only way to make a living.
“Now, the cost of an iPhone in the U.S. is $650. Analysts say Apple makes $248 in profit on every phone. But factories like this only spend about $5 putting them together.”
If those estimates are correct, each iPhone costs Apple $402: potentially, the margin of profit per iPhone could reach 162% (update: typo 62%).

----------

And the situation of the Indonesian tin miners could be worse.

----------

The Four Corners team assembled background information, including Apple’s responses, their own in-house research, and other media reports.

----------

This is probably the most neutral description of idealism I know of:
“Idealism can also be understood as the practice of understanding abstractions through other abstractions; where an abstraction is something that does not necessarily have basis nor relation to reality, but only exists in relation to other abstractions.” (here)
It’s not difficult to understand that unmeasurable, unquantifiable, immaterial, invisible, untouchable, ghostly concepts like “utility”, “human capital”, or that the “abstractions and simplifications embodied in [mainstream economic] models” (paraphrasing a moderately well-known blogger) fall into this category: a bit what Joan Robinson (channelling Wicksell) called “metaphysical”.

It has a clear “methodological” advantage over the Marxist approach: it leaves out unsightly scenes of fathers sobbing for the loss of their teenage sons, the sights of misery, exhaustion, disease, destruction, and death. It sweeps reality under the carpet, in other words.

But then, some among the philosophically sophisticated opponents of mainstream economics want not merely deny reality, but "vaporise" it. The very pinnacle of wisdom.

----------

UPDATE:

05-03-2015. Whether it was by design or otherwise, I can't tell, but Prof. Robert Paul Wolff's "parable of the butcher and the analytical philosopher" seems to fit idealist philosophy to a tee. This is the parable's moral:
"When butchering a side of beef, it is best to know something about what lies beneath its surface.
"Observation:  This is also not a bad idea when doing Philosophy."