Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bits and Pieces: Changing Labour Markets Edition.

A few years ago, a visitor to any large, self-respecting law firm in Sydney would have found that most humble and welcome worker: the tea lady (see here).

Law firms are well-known for encouraging their staff to work long hours. That's where tea ladies came in handy: by providing hot drinks and sugar heights tea ladies helped made that possible. The occasional break, with a brief chat, would help relieve pressure and stress (or so it was expected).

Well, to the best of my knowledge, long hours (not to mention work pressure) are still common in large, self-respecting law firms in Sydney. Tea ladies, however, seem to be all but gone:
"Across many industries, many people have lost jobs because of the digital revolution and automation.
"But one Sydney law firm has defiantly managed to hang on to its tea lady -- until now.
"Today is Robyn Tuckwell's first day of retirement and her colleagues believe she is the last of her kind."

"All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations." (here

It's not just tea ladies facing extinction:
"Sixty per cent of Australian students are training for jobs that will not exist in the future or will be transformed by automation, according to a new report by the Foundation for Young Australians [here or here]." (here)
The thing is, nobody knows exactly how the labour market will change. The Foundation for Young Australians' estimate, however, seems to roughly follow other people's estimates:
"Up to 70 per cent of Australian jobs could be at threat as a new wave of automation sweeps the world's workplaces over the next few decades, CSIRO [here or here] researchers have warned". (here)

And that's not all.

While politicians at both sides of Parliament have been busy taking the best possible advantage of parliamentary allowances (here and here), the Abbott government has moved to reduce -- aiming in time to their total elimination -- penalty rates for some of the lowest paid occupations in the land:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two Views on Old Books.

Sasha Abramsky reminisces on his grandfather Chimen Abramsky, a Marxist and "Jewish intellectual, historian, book collector and bibliographer of world renown". (h/t Lounger, see also)


At the other hand, this is the view an "educated, decent, intelligent son of Western Europe", an Englishman of "polymathic intellect" has on old books:
"How can I accept a doctrine which sets up as its bible, above and beyond criticism, an obsolete economic textbook which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world? 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? Even if we need a religion, how can we find it in the turbid rubbish of the Red bookshops? 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." (John Maynard Keynes, "A Short View of Russia", 1925)

You don't need to answer these questions to me, but the time may come when you will have to answer them to yourself: 
"You must decide who your comrades are going to be in life's struggles. You must decide which side you are on. Will you side with the oppressed, or with the oppressors? Will you side with the exploiters, or with the exploited? Will you side with the occupiers, or with the occupied? I cannot make that decision for you, and neither can Smith and Marx and Durkheim and Freud and Weber." (here)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Mitchell, Colander, Keynes, and Lerner.

In a recent post, Prof. Bill Mitchell says that "the roots of MMT do not lie in Keynes", but in Abba Lerner, father of functional finance and the "Milton Friedman of the Left" (here), with contributions from Marx and Michał Kalecki. Warren Mosler (another leading MMTer) comments: "Totally agree! Go Bill!".

Mitchell censures Keynes' idea that "the ordinary Budget should be balanced at all times. It is the capital Budget which should fluctuate with the demand for employment."

For Mitchell,
"This is the precursor to the modern concept of the 'golden rule', which limits fiscal deficits to the rate of public investment in productive capital.
"The 'golden rule' essentially means that over some defined economic cycle (from the peak of activity to the next peak) the government deficit should match its capital (infrastructure) spending".
Equivalently, over the economic cycle social spending must be balanced.


You would have thought that Mitchell's readers, self-described as "progressives" and avowed anti-Austerians, would share his concern.

You would have been mistaken. The online Keynesian Martyrs' Brigade was quick to howl in outrage before such blasphemy. But that's old news and it's not what drives me to comment here.


Amongst other things, Mitchell points to a humorous anecdote Lerner included in his 1961 article "The Burden of Debt" (The Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 139-141):
"But look," the Rabbi's wife remonstrated, "When one party to the dispute presented their case to you, you said 'you are quite right' and then when the other party presented their case you again said 'you are quite right', surely they cannot both be right?" To which the Rabbi answered, "My dear, you are quite right!"
Mitchell also references Prof. David Colander's 1984 article "Was Keynes a Keynesian or a Lernerian?" (Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 1572-1575), which includes many interesting things, among them the same joke.

According to Colander, although "Lerner was the perfect prophet of Keynes", the relationship between "Allah" and his functional finance "Prophet" was troublesome: a credible witness relates an occasion when Keynes qualified Lerner's ideas as "humbug", scolding Lerner in Lincoln's words: "You cannot fool all of the people all of the time". (Update: for the relationship between MMT and functional finance: here)

For Colander, Keynes' attitude towards Lerner's functional finance was variable, and perhaps the adjective opportunistic would apply:
"As to the question of whether Keynes was a Lernerian, I suspect that depended on his mood, his reading of the political forces of the day, and the time he had to reflect upon the issues". 

Personally, I have three reactions to this.

For one, I think it worthwhile to explore a little more the relationship between Keynes and Lerner (a brilliant if eccentric Bessarabian Jew of lower class, in every respect contrasting with the stereotypical denizen of Oxbridge).

My second reaction is that there is irony in an anti-Semite having so much in common with a character in a Rabbi joke. (As Prof. Colander may have discovered: subtlety is a bitch)

Finally, contrary to views dear to "progressives", experience shows that "progressive" is not synonymous with "smart". In fact, at times, the opposite seems a much better fit.

09-09-2015. Oh my!
"Has Simon Wren-Lewis just become a Lernerian--a devotee of and an evangelist for MMT? It looks to me as though that is the case! Mirabile visu." (here)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why we Work so Hard?

David Kestenbaum, Planet Money host, NPR:
"In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes published this famous essay called 'Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.' He's wondering what the future's going to be like, and he makes this bold kind of prediction. He imagines that in the time of his grandchildren - basically now - we might all be working just 15 hours a week." (Episode 641, July 24, 2015)
Robert Smith, co-host:
"Think about it - 15 hours a week. This would be like, OK, OK, go to work on Monday. Go to work on Tuesday, then, TGIT, five-day weekend. And Keynes didn't detail what we would do with all of this extra leisure time. But you can imagine. He was an aristocrat. He would want us to do poetry and dance, play the violin."
As Keynes had no grandchildren, the hosts asked his sister's grandchildren how did that prediction work out for them. Apparently, not very well:
"I probably worked about 15 a day … from breakfast 'til I went to bed at night."
"When you read Keynes's essay, you get the sense that he imagined capitalism was just this phase that humanity was going to pass through, that it was a great system for solving what he called the economic problem, for creating enough economic growth so that everybody's basic needs could be met. But he imagined that after that, people could relax. We would outgrow this habit of working all the time."
It may sound like blasphemy, but Keynes was wrong. How is that even possible?

The show offers two explanations. For one "Keynes underestimated how competitive we are": we voluntarily work hard, even if we don't need to, to have more than everybody else.

Alternatively, "Keynes probably didn't pay enough attention to the way we feel about work. Some people like their jobs," like "craftspeople who take great pride in their craft".


I know this is just anecdotal evidence, but as the son of a man who died getting ready to go to work (after working for years 16 hours a day, six days a week), I suspect those guys didn't try hard enough to understand why some work so hard, for my dad didn't love his work and he wasn't particularly competitive. Some people work really hard because  … they have no choice.

Note that both explanations the hosts advance assume -- implicitly and without a second thought -- that people choose to work harder/longer than they actually need.

Maybe Kestenbaum and Smith should try asking those working for Foxconn, Pegatron, and others: here and here.


But if those guys' explanations seem weak, restricted to their direct personal experiences, in something else they were spot on. Richard Freeman (Harvard economist and director of the NBER):
"I don't think he [i.e. Keynes] knew that many normal people."
Now, taking into account Keynes' opinions about the "common man", the "boorish proletariat", "those who do not know at all what they are talking about" it's easy to understand he didn't care to know many normal people. And relying -- just as the show hosts do -- in introspection and personal experience he wasn't in an ideal position to guess other people's motivations.

So, it's either that or, considering Keynes fixation on Animal Spirits (which he fully formed later, in time for "The General Theory"), he might have been trying to pre-empt the Great Depression, while having a go at the Webbs.

Who knows, maybe "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren" was Keynes' first attempt at Keynesian stimulus. Appropriately Orwellian, if you think about it.


Episode 641, Planet Money, July 24, 2015:

22-08-2015. Alfred Marshall (Keynes' mentor) and missus, Mary Paley Marshall, explain in their 1879 book "The Economics of Industry" how general slumps happen (highly evocative of Hyman Minsky's work, btw) and how the economy finally recovers:
"The chief cause of the evil is a want of confidence. The greater part of it could be removed almost in an instant if confidence could return, touch all industries with her magic wand, and make them continue their production and their demand for the wares of others." (pp. 154-155)
Maybe with "Economic Possibilities" Keynes was trying to give the Confidence Fairy a hand.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Marxism 101.

Prof. Rick Kuhn (here and here) has compiled a list of online introductions to the classical Marxist tradition (here).

These are his recommendations and his comments:

Given the effort the apologists of capital put in slandering Marx and Engels and in seeding deliberate misinformation on Marxism and socialism, these links offer a treasure trove of information for workers.

My thanks to the authors and to Prof. Kuhn for compiling that list.

I am proud to contribute, in whatever measure, to the diffusion of this literature.

04-10-2015. Andy Blunden's Study Guide is a useful complement to Marx's "Value, Price and Profit". Hosted by the MIA, the contains 14 questions which one should keep in mind while reading "Value, Price and Profit".

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stewart and the Keynesian Anti-Zugzwang.

It may be hard to believe it, but it seems I'm starting to resonate to the thought of smart and interesting people.

A few weeks ago I mentioned -- in passing -- the old titbit that Keynes' quote "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" might be apocryphal. The story involves an unnamed critic reproaching Keynes' frequent -- and often contradictory -- changes of mind. M'Lord, perhaps with some irritation, would have replied with those words.

Imagine my surprise to find that John Kay ("one of Britain's leading economists", as his personal website helpfully notes) wrote a whole post ("Keynes was Half Right about the Facts", August 4, in the website of the august Financial Times) precisely about that.

It's a curious, if confusing, short note on the relationship between Keynes, facts, evidence, information, and the conclusions people are entitled to draw from them.

After a few preliminaries, Kay writes:
"[T]here are still some who valiantly struggle to form their own opinions on the basis of evidence".
And mentions Keynes: if facts, evidence, information do change -- Kay says -- then one's conclusions and opinions must change accordingly. Keynes' intellectual honesty and magnanimity impose it. No shame it that.

Makes sense, doesn't it?


Then, Kay adds:
"But Keynes might have done better to say: 'Even when the facts don't change, I (sometimes) change my mind.' The history of his evolving thought reveals that, with the self-confidence appropriate to his polymathic intellect, he evidently felt no shame in doing so."
Facts, evidence, information may not change -- Kay contends -- but Keynes' conclusions and opinions may still change … His self-confidence and polymathic intellect allow it. No shame in that.

Makes … sense … !? Wait a minute … Oops.


Unfortunately, I ain't no Jon Stewart (sadly, JS won't be JS any longer, either), but I sure miss him:


A good thing about discussing aphorisms, idioms, one-liners, proverbs, and quotes, even apocryphal ones, is that they remind you of related things.

This time, for example, I was reminded of "damned if you do, damned if you don't". You've surely heard that: roughly, what Germans mean by Zugzwang.

You saw it here first, ladies and gentlemen: the first documented instance of the Keynesian anti-Zugzwang.

Blessed be M'Lord for sticking to evidence … and for ignoring it.


By the way, ("we can't do anything, until we know everything") I smelled something while reading this.

Following your advise, Jon, I've just said something.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Reading Robinson: Introduction (part i)

After John Maynard Keynes, Joan V. Robinson (1903-1983) was the most influential figure of the original Keynes' “Circus” at the University of Cambridge; and her active role promoting Keynesian economics earned her the title of “patron saint of Post-Keynesian economics”.

Right-click to open in a separate tab (source)

Born Joan Violet Maurice, Robinson was one of five children of a bourgeois English family with a Christian socialist background and a penchant for outspokenness. During World War I, her father, Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice, was forced to resign his commission after publishing an open letter criticising PM David Lloyd George on military matters.

Robinson studied economics at Girton College, where she met Maurice Dobb, at the time the unpopular and bullied Marxist odd man out at Cambridge. According to her close friend, one-time student, and unofficial literary executor and biographer, Geoff Harcourt, Robinson learned little from Dobb, as they took a quick dislike for each other:
"No, they had a very lukewarm relationship. She thought he was schizophrenic. She could never understand him. Here he was, this great Communist, Marxist, out of office hours, teaching Marshall in office hours. And I think Maurice thought that she was an upper-class bourgeois liberal with pinkish overtones who wouldn't go the whole hog. And also, I think, he was offended by her rather philistine, very British, attitude to the philosophical problems of the labor theory of value, whereas he argued that the labor theory of value was the base on which you should erect Marxism." (Harcourt and King, 1995)
Marrying to fellow economist Austin Robinson soon after graduation, for nearly a decade there is little of interest to report on Robinson's career. Back at Cambridge from India, in 1934 Robinson was appointed to an assistant lectureship, and promoted to lecturer in 1936/37, no mean feats for an initially unknown female economist in a male-dominated milieu, apparently against initial opposition from Keynes (Gold, 2009).

Demonstrating independent thought, during this time Robinson's economics shifted from the originally Marshallian mainstream, to increasingly Keynesian, and quasi-Marxian/Neo Ricardian, influenced by Michał Kalecki and Piero Sraffa -- both Jewish foreigners at their turn influenced by Marx, and, like Robinson less-than-obvious choices to join the Keynesian pantheon.

Having gained little from her association with Dobb, Robinson -- the self-taught student of Marx -- tactfully (for once) comments:
"In those days most of my academic colleagues in England thought that to study Marx was a quaint pastime (though Keynes, who was allergic to Marx's writing, received my Essay kindly) and in the United States it was disreputable." (Robinson, 1966:vi)
Evidently, little changed since.

During this period, Robinson (whom Prof. Robert Paul Wolff calls with good-natured irony "the doyenne of English Marxists", here), “was considered to be the leading expert on John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx”, and credited for “her role in putting Marx's insights back on the agenda of modern economics" (Spartacus Educational, 2015), a considerably high praise.

Departing from Keynesian orthodoxy, and perhaps out of sympathy/admiration for a female Jewish economist, revolutionary Marxist, and founder of the Communist Party of Germany, martyred in 1919 by the German Social Democracy and its proto-Nazi accomplices, Robinson wrote in 1951 the introduction to Rosa Luxemburg's magnum opus, "The Accumulation of Capital":
"Rosa Luxemburg, neglected by Marxist and academic economists alike, offers a theory of the dynamic development of capitalism which is of the greatest interest." (Luxemburg, 2013: 13)
Five years later, Robinson herself would use the same title for her own book on the subject. One can only imagine how Keynes would have reacted to that.

Politically, Robinson sympathised with the British Labour Party. Although far from being a revolutionary party, the Labour Party was the object of suspicion and fear by other members of the British bourgeoisie and intelligentsia (with characteristic exaggeration, Keynes himself called it the "Party of Catastrophe").

Like Keynes, who visited the Soviet Union, Robinson visited the People's Republic of China. To make things worse, unlike Keynes, "as Robinson aged, her left-wing sympathies grew, and ultimately she became an admirer of Mao Tse-Tung’s China and Kim Il Sung’s North Korea." (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014).


Although I cannot share her sympathies for Mao and Kim, it's hard for me to dislike such a woman; additionally, Harcourt has a highly positive opinion of Robinson, the thinker:
“Robinson's incisive mind made her a powerful critic; her insight and intuition, whereby she provided logical arguments of great penetration (without the help of modern mathematical techniques), allowed her to make significant contributions across the whole spectrum of economic theory.” (Spartacus Educational, 2015) 
Although others have less appreciative views (Sen, 2015)  (Stiglitz, 2015), Harcourt is not alone in his admiration. From all these descriptions, Robinson emerges as a formidable character, with many virtues and some serious flaws.

For all there's to admire in Robinson, it is in her capacity as intellectual that I am here interested, and particularly in her 1962 book, “Economic Philosophy”, where she outlines her views on the philosophy of science in general, philosophy of economics (or methodology) in particular and history of economic thought.

It is, therefore, with some trepidation that I intend to probe to what extent those words of praise are justified as evidenced by “Economic Philosophy”.

The following quotation seems an appropriate tribute to Robinson and should sound as a warning to teenage readers of a fanatical internet Keynesian persuasion:
“It has been claimed that Joan Robinson did not mind upsetting people with her work: 'Never one to mince words, possessor of a civilized wit, sometimes bleakly rude, not always fair but always honest, as hard on herself as on those she criticized, Joan Robinson more than any other economist of the twentieth century became a model for progressive radicals, fearlessly following arguments to conclusions no matter how incompatible they proved to be'." (Spartacus Educational, 2015)
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.


Encyclopedia Britannica, (2014). Joan Robinson | biography - British economist. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2015].

Gold, N. (2009). The Provocative Joan Robinson: The Making of a Cambridge Economist. [online] Times Higher Education. Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2015].

Harcourt, G. and King, J. (1995). Talking About Joan Robinson: Geoff Harcourt in Conversation with John King. Review of Social Economy, 53(1), pp.31-64.

Luxemburg, R. (2003). The accumulation of capital. London: Routledge.

Robinson, J. (1962). Economic philosophy. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

Robinson, J. (1966). An essay on Marxian economics. London: Macmillan.

Robinson, J. (1969). The accumulation of capital. London: Macmillan.

Robinson, J. and Gibson, B. (2005). Joan Robinson's economics. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Sen, A. (2015). Amartya Sen - Biographical. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2015].

Spartacus Educational, (2015). Joan Robinson. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2015].

Stiglitz, J. (2015). Joseph E. Stiglitz - Biographical. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2015].

Social Democracy: a Definition.

I'm developing a taste for aphorisms, funny anecdotes, one-liners, and such.

At the same time I've noticed that social democratic bloggers, having already re-defined Social Democracy and Socialism, are now intent on re-defining the meaning of capitalism. Well, monkey see, monkey do: I thought I could try my hand at this re-definition business, and so I picked Social Democracy.

However, given that formal definitions seem boring (at least, nobody who is somebody uses them), I tried to find a witty or at least funny way to convey the same idea. Luckily, searching quotes from famous (or notorious, depending on where you stand) characters I found this gem (my translation from the Spanish original):
"Former [Venezuelan Social Democrat] president Carlos Andrés Pérez, during his first government upon being asked whether his regime's political stance was capitalistic or communistic, uttered this phrase, already most famous: 'Neither the one, nor the other; just the opposite'."


Like Keynes' celebrated rebuke "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" the anecdote above seems to be equally apocryphal and is often attributed -- with somewhat different wordings and more or less details -- to a variety of Latin American politicians, well-known for their Bushisms.

However, the most believable version traces its origin back to Mexican comedian Mario Moreno (better-known as Cantinflas, his onscreen persona's name). For those not in the know: Moreno is to Charlie Chaplin, what Cantinflas is to the Tramp.

So, unlike Social Democracy itself, that quote was originally meant to be humorous.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Jones Interviews Oppenheimer: "The Look of Silence".

It's easy for effete trendies in developed countries to declare their readiness to wage class war on behalf of the educated bourgeoisie.

If you have ever met an Australian Young Liberal, mentally copy and paste his/her picture here; otherwise, these two (US, and UK) will do.

The scene could take place at a social/sporting event, in a prestigious and expensive university campus. Comfortably surrounded by their cronies -- all coming from the best families -- between drinks, our self-appointed champion of capitalism doesn't worry to have his/her manicured hands dirty: the allegedly intellectual side of repression. Civilised, white, urbane: think of Apple Inc.

Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, who will be visiting Australia, interviewed last Thursday by Tony Jones for ABC's Lateline (video and transcript) has seen, spoken and filmed the other side of that coin, the bloody, muddy, lower, outsourced end of the repression industry. Think of Foxconn or Pegatron.

Mark Kermode reviews Oppenheimer's "The Look of Silence", companion documentary to Oppenheimer's 2012 "The Act of Killing" on the murder of up to a million Indonesian communists:

"The Look of Silence" Official Trailer 2 (2015) - Joshua Oppenheimer Documentary HD:

"The Act of Killing" trailer 2013:

Just like there's no Apple Inc without Pegatron and Foxconn, there's no "intellectual" anti-Marxism without these guys. As we lower-class Aussies say: the same shit from a different pile.

That's what is involved in taking sides in a class war, in the real world.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Pissing in the Wind.

According to SBS, this was Tony Abbott last year:


A fortnight ago, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop was in the news:

Bronwyn Bishop spends $5,000 on 80km charter helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong

Updated 15 Jul 2015, 7:43pm


Bronwyn Bishop's parliamentary career is 'at an end', says Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Updated about an hour ago


Eerie, isn't it?


I bet next week there will be news about tax hikes.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Mitchell on Left and Right.

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." (Matthew 6:24 KJV)
Over the years regulars of this blog have seen many favourable references to Prof. Bill Mitchell, so I suppose nobody will be surprised to read that I'm one of his fans.

Prof. Mitchell has recently written several posts on the subject of the Left failings, perhaps as a sounding board for a book on that subject which he plans.

In this spirit I offer here a friendly critique to some of his ideas, particularly those in "There is Still a Meaningful Left-Right Distinction" (July 14).

Mitchell advances the following thesis:
"[T]he [Left and Right] categories remain influential and meaningful but are blurred through ignorance as to how the monetary system operates. Left-wingers fall prey to right-wing policies because they have bought the TINA myth. That is the only way one could explain the Syriza disaster, for example."
For what it is worth, I do not dispute the theoretical validity of MMT (of which Mitchell is a leading proponent) or its importance. Still, I cannot share Mitchell's thesis, particularly on the reason why pseudo-Left parties are a constant disappointment.

Mitchell starts his argument quoting from Knapp and Wright on the historical origin of the Left/Right distinction:
"France invented the terms Left and Right early in the great Revolution of 1789-94 which first limited the powers of, and then overthrew, the Bourbon monarchy. Those noble members of the first National Assembly who wished to limit the powers of the monarch moved to sit with the commoners on the left of the Assembly; those who still supported the absolutism of what was shortly to become known as the ancien re?gime sat on the right, as seen from the chair of the presiding officer."
That quote expresses graphically the distinction Right vs Left. We have two sides in dispute. To be a Leftie is to take one side, to move to sit with the commoners, to become their partisan.

To be a "Rightie" (if that word exists) is to move away from this side, to sit with the other guys, to play for the other team.

Prof. Robert Paul Wolff, another person I admire, put that:
"You must decide who your comrades are going to be in life's struggles. You must decide which side you are on. Will you side with the oppressed, or with the oppressors? Will you side with the exploiters, or with the exploited? Will you side with the occupiers, or with the occupied? I cannot make that decision for you, and neither can Smith and Marx and Durkheim and Freud and Weber." (here)
Like Wolff said, nobody can make that decision for you. But a decision must be made.

One may reproach Keynes many things -- and I, personally, do -- but one cannot reproach him for expressing his own personal choice:
"Ought I, then, to join the Labour Party? Superficially that is more attractive. But looked at closer, there are great difficulties. To begin with, it is a class party, and the class is not my class. If I am going to pursue sectional interests at all, I shall pursue my own. When it comes to the class struggle as such, my local and personal patriotisms, like those of every one else, except certain unpleasant zealous ones, are attached to my own surroundings. I can be influenced by what seems to me to be Justice and good sense; but the class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie."
Now, I'm sure Mitchell doesn't need a Joe Bloggs, like yours truly, lecturing him on that. Still, when it comes to a Left-wing government, this is what he has to say:
"A left-wing government would not aspire to be 'pro business' but rather realise that the relationships between workers and capital are antagonistic and the state has to act as a mediator between the two if the workers are to access the productivity gains of the system and enjoy income security".
In other words, Mitchell's normative conception of a Left-wing government implies a rightward shift in its focus: from being a representative of the workers, their partisan, into becoming a mediator between workers and business; from sitting with the commoners, to sitting between them and the monarch; from a player, into a referee. It must serve both God and Mammon.

Mitchell surely would object to this, but one conclusion one must draw is that when in opposition a Left-wing party can afford "radicalism", when in government it must become impartial, pragmatic, centre, technocratic: Keynesian, in one word.

But -- other than in Keynes' over-inflated self-image -- is that level of detachment even feasible? Can one really serve God and Mammon?

In this context, seemingly, the criticism of Syriza and other pseudo-Left parties is not so much that they drifted to the Right, but that they drifted too much, beyond what's technically justified.


MMTers may object that the correct understanding of how a fully monetary economy works empowers government to satisfy both workers and business, at the same time.

Personally, I'm skeptical. The reasons are many, but this is not the place for them. Suffice it to say that it has not worked: if it had, Mitchell and other accomplished MMTers would not have to spend their time teaching the basics of MMT. As Chris Dillow put it:
"It's centrist utopianism - the idea that moderate and feasible tweaks within capitalism can generate big improvements."
After all, if as a matter of positive fact, the "relationships between workers and capital are antagonistic" -- as Mitchell correctly says -- what hope is there for mediation?


Prof. Mitchell, with respect, let's call a spade a spade: a Leftie, as a Leftie, cannot be "impartial", "technocratic", "unbiased", anymore than a "Rightie" could.

But she can try and she will disappoint, as Syriza did:
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-17, KJV)
So, there is no middle-ground: you cannot fix capitalism by applying a patch here and another there. Unfortunately, it's either God or Mammon.