Thursday, July 30, 2015

Stop the China-Australia FTA.


There is a lot less glamour in the secret China/Australia FTA currently being discussed -- apparently, almost ready for approval -- than in the Syriza fiasco, therefore, the commentariat shall not pay it any attention.

Still, the much maligned -- not entirely unfairly -- Australian Unions is promoting a very working class, plebeian email campaign against the FTA. Here is the information kit the unions have made available.

The email form can be found here. It's up to you: take the Australian people's side or take the side of the intelligentsia. It's your future and that of your children.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Magpie’s Believe it or Not!


(Right click for a larger image in a separate tab)

I know. It’s hard to believe. I myself couldn’t believe it. Honestly, I still don’t quite believe it. Read whatever meaning you wish on that: those are the words in black and white.

But I swear, the screenshot above is real. You don’t need to take my word for it. Click here and scroll down, to see it with your own eyes.

And that’s not the half of it! The post Phil was commenting on, written by Prof. Bill Mitchell, had this title:

(Right click for a larger image in a separate tab)

As the Yanks say: I’ll be damned.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bits and Pieces (viii): Syriza Fiasco Edition.


It should not come as a surprise, after the Syriza fiasco, but talking-heads of all kinds came up with their dicta on what happened, why, and what conclusions one should draw from that.

Take, for instance, this guy (a Post Keynesian social democrat, I guess). He starts by acknowledging that "the [i.e. Syriza/Troika] deal, obviously it looks bad. No sense in spinning". Sounds promising, yes? An unflinching look at reality, to learn from it.

This is the first lesson one is supposed to learn:
"The euro system today is an instrument in the hands of European capital to roll back the gains of social democracy."
Sorry?

The author calls the welfare state and social security "the gains of social democracy".

So? What's wrong with that?

Let's answer in two ways:

  1. The author confuses apples with oranges. Welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens" (here). Social democracy is a "political ideology that advocates a peaceful, evolutionary transition of society from capitalism to socialism" (here): different things. European capital has little interest in rolling back ideologies, they care about money. What they are rolling back is social security, labour laws, public ownership of enterprises: you can and often have that without and even in spite of social democratic parties.
  2. Many people, with many different political ideologies, contributed to the formation of the welfare state: the so-called Iron Chancellor, Bismarck, is considered the father of the German welfare state and he was far from being a social democrat (just as today's "social democrats" are far from being 19th century social democrats).

His "unflinching" look at reality turns out to contain plenty spin. Oh, well.

----------

Writing in the second decade of the 21st century, Prof. Barkley Rosser compares the "parallel lives" of Alexis Tsipras and George Papandreou (here).

Rosser's focus is on great individuals' struggles. Unlike the previous author, Rosser's narrative does not include -- explicitly, at least -- any consideration about class conflicts. If that's the case -- and I hope to be mistaken -- Rosser is following an old tradition: history is the result of great men (usually, men) and their travails and whims. History is still the product of conflict, but personal conflict, only: no classes, thank you very much. More like Moses vs the Pharaoh, Charlton Heston vs Yul Brynner, in the old movie. Or think of Thomas Carlyle's 1841 "On Heroes and Hero Worship and the Heroic in History".

That was a characteristic of 19th century Romanticism, which people like Nietzsche and Keynes cultivated, long after Romanticism had already lost its edge.

Apparently, the old philosophy of history is the new black.

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I may be excessively suspicious, but are people trying to re-brand Yanis Varoufakis, after resignation, into a Hero, maybe even into a second coming of our Lord?

Well, if I am mistaken on that, at least I'm not alone.

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All this talk about heroes and the new "Mad Max: Fury Road" reminded me of this 1985 song, sung by Tina Turner, from the "Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome" soundtrack:



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Sadly, conservative columnists' efforts are probably among the most accurate and fairest comments on Syriza. Take Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's recent one, for instance:
"The Left let itself become the enforcer of reactionary policies and mass unemployment because of the euro."
It may be a lot less (self-) flattering for social democrats, Fabians and the fashionable, Austro-Keynesian, non-leftist leftists (or their equally pseudo-intellectual puppeteers), but there's plenty I find myself in agreement with. But I'll leave further comments for a future opportunity.

Monday, July 13, 2015

McCloskey: M'Lord Keynes was a Sophist.


In her 1996 column Other Things Equal, Prof. Deirdre McCloskey describes Keynes ("Keynes Was a Sophist, and a Good Thing, Too") as a "sophist" and his work as "sophistry".

Against those for whom sophist is a "term of contempt", for McCloskey (arguably a proud sophist and rhetorician herself):
" 'Sophistry' in Plato's sense means 'mere verbal trickery,' as against Really Knowing, the sort of thing a true philosopher Knows. (…)
"The contrary view, that of the sophists themselves (…) is that we humans must get along on exchanges of words, and had better learn to use them well."
As McCloskey explained elsewhere, given that things cannot be Really Known, humans are left to argue their positions, in the most effective way, not with the aim of reaching or even approaching the Truth (which is unknowable), but to prevail in arguments, much as done in legal procedures or in debating societies: you are assigned a thesis, whether you believe in it or not, and your task is to argue it (more on this here).

Following McCloskey, that's where rhetoric and persuasion (which Keynes mastered) play a role:
"Democracies and courts of law [and economic theory and policy, apparently] depend on an art of persuasion exercised in the here and now".
McCloskey uses this "rehabilitated" meaning of sophist/sophism to distinguish Keynes and his work from lesser economists, steeped in Plato's anti-sophistic tradition:
"Right from the beginning Platonic thinkers like Friedrich Hayek and J.R. Hicks could not grasp his [i.e. Keynes'] method".
For McCloskey two main symptoms reveal Keynes' sophistry:
  1. "Keynes' lifelong commitment to adversarial and sophistic styles of engagement";
  2. "A sign of a sophist -- a sign considered by Platonic thinkers as the chief evil of sophism -- is the ability to change one's mind".
Unfortunately, McCloskey did not offer any quotation as evidence. However, regulars of this blog may find a good illustration to point (1) here.

Regarding point (2). The "Platonic" Hayek himself demonstrated exasperation with Keynes' tendency to come up with self-contradictory arguments (or Keynes' sudden changes of mind; about the apparently apocryphal quote, here):
"He was so convinced that he was cleverer than all the other people that he thought his instinct told him what ought to be done, and he would invent a theory to convince people to do it. That was really his approach." (Hayek et al, 1994)
Lord Skidelsky (whose work apparently influenced McCloskey):
"Hayek was infuriated by the rapidity with which Keynes changed his theories. This seemed to show he lacked scientific principles. Statesmanship without principle, Hayek would have said, is the slippery slope to totalitarianism." (Skidelsky, 2006, or here)
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I believe McCloskey -- a Post Modern economist -- has a point about Keynes' sophistry. I, however, find it hard to share her upbeat assessment. Whether that was a good thing it's a matter of opinion.

Still, I think I can contribute to McCloskey's argument: there is another sense -- perhaps less obvious -- in which Keynes fits the sophist profile:
"[S]ophists have been many things to many people. (…)" (Duke, 2015, or here)
Again, regulars may have already stumbled on an example of that in these pages: Keynes as a conservative/centrist/leftish figurehead depending on the political orientation of his follower.

In fact, Keynes and Keynesianism can be acceptable to both PoMo and positivist Post Keynesians, provided they (like their Master) do not place too much value on coherence:
"(…) For Hegel (1995/1840) the sophists were subjectivists whose sceptical reaction to the objective dogmatism of the presocratics was synthesised in the work of Plato and Aristotle. For the utilitarian English classicist George Grote (1904), the sophists were progressive thinkers who placed in question the prevailing morality of their time. More recent work by French theorists such as Jacques Derrida (1981) and Jean Francois-Lyotard (1985) suggests affinities between the sophists and postmodernism." (Emphasis added) 
Or here and here. His lordship, after all, created a school of thought.


References:

Duke, G. (2015). The Sophists (Ancient Greek). In: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, <http://www.iep.utm.edu/>. July 2, 2015.
Hayek, F., Kresge, S., Wenar, L. and Hayek, F. (1994). Hayek on Hayek. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McCloskey, D. (1996). Keynes Was a Sophist, and a Good Thing, Too. Eastern Economic Journal, 22(2), pp. 231-234. <http://college.holycross.edu/RePEc/eej/Archive/Volume22/V22N2P231_234.pdf>
Skidelsky, R. (2006). Hayek versus Keynes: The Road to Reconciliation. In: E. Feser, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hayek, 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.<http://www.skidelskyr.com/site/article/hayek-versus-keynes-the-road-to-reconciliation/>

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Straight from the Horse's Mouth.


h/t Houses and Holes (Macrobusiness):
"PRIME MINISTER: Ok, do we have any questions?
"QUESTION: Prime Minister, how concerned are you about the problems in China and Greece, those economic problems spreading to Australia and especially the plunge in the Chinese stock prices?
"PRIME MINISTER: Michael, look, the important thing is to do whatever we can to build a strong and prosperous economy locally, and again I get back to the Grocery Code of Conduct. This is about ensuring that we have the strongest possible local businesses to supply the strongest possible local businesses. We have a great supermarket system. That rests on the shoulders of great local suppliers and this is about ensuring that we continue to have very strong local suppliers, best possible product at the best possible price so that we get the best possible deal for consumers – and if we do that we will avoid the problems that we see overseas". (here)
[Bloody blah, bloody blah]
"QUESTION: PM, are you concerned that the Chinese Government potentially has intervened in their stock market to try and prop it up given the losses that have been experienced over the last two weeks?
"PRIME MINISTER: Well, again, look, I’m not going to offer a running commentary on what other governments do. My business today and every day is to ensure our country is in the best possible position to deal with whatever comes. Whether it be challenges to our economic security, whether it be challenges to our national security, the job of this Government is to make our country as strong as it possibly can be and that’s why the small business budget boost was so important with the instant asset write-off which has done so much to boost confidence, and that’s why today’s Grocery Code of Conduct is so important. It’s all about producing stronger local businesses and if we’ve got stronger local businesses, we’ll have a stronger economy and we’ll be very well placed to deal with whatever the future throws at us."
Paraphrasing PM Abbott, well, again, look, he's not concerned at all about the terrifying power of Keynes' digestion Animal Spirits.

But, but, but, all local VSPs are really, really concerned …

So, what gives? Is the Animal Spirits for real or maybe Abbott -- believe it or not -- for once is right?

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Man, you've gotta love the Animal Spirits/Confidence Fairy thing: it may not explain shit, but it gives me hours of fun.

UPDATE:
08-07-2015. Minutes after posting this, Houses and Holes posted this:

"The Shanghai stock market is open and down she goes 8%:"

(source)

Animal Spirits!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Bits and Pieces (VII): ABC Edition.


Continuing with his crusade against the ABC, PM Tony Abbott forbade Coalition frontbenchers from attending invitations to the ABC debate program Q&A. As a result, Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce was forced to cancel his appearance, last night, after having confirmed his presence. (here)

Last week, Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with Defense minister Kevin Andrews and parliamentary secretary Alan Tudge had already declined invitations, apparently before being ordered by their boss.

I, for one, understand the Prime Minister's position and fully support him on that: if his frontbenchers are incapable of answering questions from the public without making fools of themselves, they better abstain from attending the show.

In fact, I thank Abbott sparing us the spectacle of those mumbling gargoyles invading our homes before bed time and I further suggest him to forbid Greg Sheridan, Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine, and their like; all Coalition backbenchers, and Chris Berg and the sundry think-tank fauna to show their mugshots in ABC.

For Christ's sake: at least make them wear a mask. Thank you.

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And speaking of Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce: last weekend Joyce, attending the ABC interview program Insiders, warned that Asian countries could see Australia as "decadent" if same-sex marriage was made legal here. (here)

Coming from a Very Serious Person, like Joyce, we know that's a Very Serious Matter: he wouldn't just pull something so absurd off his backside. Right?

So, there's that. At the other hand, I warn that we Aussies could see ourselves as "Joyceans" if we take his "warning" too Seriously.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Greece to Merkel: Oxi!


It seems "keyneses" are heading for another terrible week: the Greeks (and even some Germans, see below) decided to answer Oxi in the referendum:

(source)




Animal Spirits!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Is Syriza a Left Party?


Greek Elections (2000-2015):
the Fall of PASOK/ND.
(source)

Is Syriza a Left-wing movement -- God forbid, maybe even a Socialist/Communist party in disguise -- as feared by unnamed prominent members of the European elite and as repeatedly declared by their paid hacks and propagandists in the Murdoch mainstream press?

Beyond any initial posturing by Syriza itself (for instance, as implied in its official name: Coalition of the Radical Left), presumably for the benefit of their lifelong activists, there's little reason to fear.

There are many ways to argue that (see James Petras, here, for one), but the chart above provides a clear reason: until the October 2009 election (won by the centre-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement/PASOK), the constituency of Syriza (313 thousand votes) was 1/7th that of centre-right New Democracy and 1/10th that of PASOK (5.2 million votes, combined).

After less than 3 years of Troika-imposed austerity, applied scrupulously by PASOK with ND support, Syriza's vote more than tripled (1 million votes), while the combined votes of PASOK and ND did not reach half their 2009 level (2 million votes): the PASOK/ND combined loss of 3.2 million votes reflected a gain for Syriza, other smaller parties (chiefly the Golden Dawn), and abstention (over 0.5 million voters did not vote).

Greek Elections (2000-2015):
Fewer Happy Voters in Democracy's Birthplace.

(source)

The constituency of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) has fluctuated around a narrow band (between 250 and 580 thousand votes), gaining little from the PASOK/ND loss. If there is any Left left in Greece, I'd search for it among those few.

(source)
Similar dynamics seem to apply to the June 2012 and January 2015 elections: quickly enough other smaller parties -- like a balloon -- started losing air; apparently, 1 Greek voter in 3 did not bother to vote.

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The obvious interpretation of those results is that -- tired of austerity and disappointed by the corruption involving those two parties -- lifelong PASOK/ND supporters turned to the smaller parties less tainted by corruption or more critics of austerity, but perhaps not too distant ideologically.

If I had to find those lost PASOK (probably middle-class) voters, I'd look first among the supposedly "radical left" voters of Syriza (so much for the "Red under the bed" of popular imagination).

And, if I had to venture a guess, mine would be that those are highly volatile votes which could easily swing back to PASOK. But if ersatz Left floats your boat, then, by any means.

Just sayin'.


Update:

05-07-2015. Houses and Holes, from Macrobusiness, on the referendum: "It appears the Greek referendum that begins today is too close to call:" 43.0% No; 42.5% Yes. "81% favor Greece staying in the eurozone".

11-07-2015. Incidentally, although I have always been rather skeptical about Syriza, I don't feel and never felt any animus against them: The Rise of Syriza (15-06-2012)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Animal Spirits: Two Days Later.


Two days ago, "keyneses" all over the world were looking at their computer monitors in consternation: there wee red numbers everywhere (see here).

That's how things look like today (10:35 AM Thursday, 2 July 2015, AEST GMT+10):
(Right-click to open another tab with a larger image. source)

(Right-click to open another tab with a larger image. source)

Since then, some "keyneses" lost plenty money, while others won some; the sun set and rose twice; some people were born during these last days, others, died. But -- and maybe it's just me -- I've seen nothing really remarkable happening: no slump, no boom.

Okay, maybe it's too soon to claim victory. Keynes did not establish any kind of timeframe for the awesome power of Animal Spirits to manifest itself  (funny that, wouldn't you say?), so perhaps we should give it some more time to produce its magic. Let's wait. Shock and awe are surely on their way.

Like a VSP-K (Very Serious Post Keynesian) professor likes to say: "eventually" something is bound to happen.