Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Revealed: How 7-Eleven is Ripping Off its Workers.


(source)
This post's title borrows from an interactive report -- made public today -- summarising the Fairfax Media's journalists Adele Ferguson and Sarah Danckert and the ABC's Four Corners investigation on the underpayment of wages to staff (largely foreign students) working for the convenience store chain 7-Eleven Australia.

The screen capture above are the words of one of the 7-Eleven workers.

From the interactive report:
"The lot of the average 7-Eleven worker in Australia is as simple as it is bleak: you get paid half the $24.50 an hour award rate -- or less -- and if you complain your boss threatens you with deportation." (here)
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Today, 7-Eleven chairman Russ Withers and CEO Warren Wilmot resigned to their positions. Chairman Withers admitted the "abhorrent behaviour", and last Thursday, before a Senate Committee meeting held in Melbourne, vowed to refund all exploited workers (here).

Michael Smith (former iiNet chairman) and Bob Baily will replace Withers and Wilmot, with the mandate to solve the situation of workers and franchisees.

It was also revealed that -- apart from the wages underpayment issue -- some franchisees extorted the foreign students between $30,000 and $70,000 to sponsor their visas. (here)

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As a Marxist socialist and -- above all -- a worker, I must express my gratitude and admiration to the ABC's Four Corners and very especially to Adele Ferguson, Sarah Danckert, Klaus Toft and all the team from Fairfax Media, for their work. Michael Fraser, consumer rights advocate, should not be forgotten: his friendship -- as a middle-class man -- for a 7-Eleven worker, a proletarian, made a difference.

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The truth of exploitation -- revealed here only in its most evident aspect: when labour laws are breached -- cannot be ignored, in spite of all the lies concocted to deceive us workers. I've been following the case -- extensively reported by Fairfax Media, the ABC and other media -- and shall have more to write about it.


Further Information:

Original Four Corners' report by Adele Ferguson and Klaus Toft (broadcast Sep. 2), with video, transcript and background information, including 7-Eleven Australia statements.
7-Eleven: The Price of Convenience

From The Washington Post's Daniel J. Galvin (Sep. 6), a related story from the U.S. here (h/t Corey Robin)

Monday, September 28, 2015

NASA vs Econosophers: Inference in Science.

"There is something there. But just because your theory is good does not mean that the entities in your theory are 'really there', whatever that might mean ..." (here)

(source, Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)


British Elite's Peccadilloes: Truth or Legend?


The latest? The very British "Piggate".

(source)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Only in Australia.


There's something really weird happening to the good and mighty of English-speaking countries …

First, in the U.S. of A. the kid arrested for carrying a clock

(source)

Now, Down Under, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Terrorism Michael Keenan launched the Radicalisation Awareness Kit, in an effort to match his Yank counterparts. 

The RAK, to be distributed among school teachers, is based on hypothetical "case studies". In one of them, the protagonist -- "Karen" -- becomes radicalised after listening to "alternative music" (thankfully, she didn't go Goth, or the school principal would have had to call for an exorcist, Abraham van Helsing, and the S.A.S. combined). And from there, "Karen" went all the way downhill.

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Dear "right-of-centre, conservative, libertarian" fellow countrymen in power, you obviously don't mind the ridicule. Fine. That's your prerogative.

But please, for the love of God, don't make the rest of Australia a laughing stock, I beg of you.

Give us a break. 


Further Reading:


#freekaren: Government's anti-radicalisation kit sparks ridicule on social media, by Yasmin Parry.

Anti-radicalisation kit never meant for use in schools, says key author, by Michael Safi

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Capitalism Finds a Way.




Hi. He's Jeff Goldblum. You may remember him from such films like "Jurassic Park", where he played the consistently obnoxious Dr. Ian Malcolm, who was very negative about the whole dino-theme park thing.

In spite of all the safety assurances given by the very confident theme park experts, Dr. Malcolm was the killjoy spoiling everyone's fun. Chill -- was the experts' reaction -- they have everything under control.

"Life", Dr. Malcolm explains rather unsuccessfully, "finds a way".

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In spite of all the legal and presumably well-meaning controls imposed on nitrous oxides emissions, we have this:

(source)
Apparently,
"With the so-called 'defeat device' deactivated, the car can spew pollutant gases into the air, including nitrogen oxide in amounts as much as 40 times higher than emissions standards, said the US Environmental Protection Agency, which announced the allegations on Friday along with California authorities."
After that, you would have thought well-meaning liberal/progressives' faith on market regulation would -- at the very least -- be shaken. Yes?

Well, no. The first and more natural liberal/progressive reaction is denial that any regulations were ever put in place:
"The free market at work". (23 Sep 2015 6:36:55pm, here)
The second reaction -- mark my words -- will be to impose tougher, more elaborate, more costly, controls which will make cheating ever more profitable.

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Sorry to play the killjoy, dear well-meaning liberal/progressives, but you can have clean air (or good wages, or low interests, or cheap medicines, healthy food, or whatever) or you can have capitalism, but you can't impose well-meaning, liberal/progressive -- but ultimately costly -- controls on capitalist enterprise.

Capitalism finds a way to circumvent controls and screw us.

Choose.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull as Salesman.


New PM Malcolm Turnbull last night, interviewed by Leigh Sales (ABC's 7:30 Report Sep. 21):
LEIGH SALES: "(…) What are the values and core beliefs that will be the foundation for all of the policies that your government comes up with?"
MALCOLM TURNBULL: "Well, this is a Liberal National government. It is a free market government. It is committed to ensuring that Australians are free to choose their own directions, whether it's in their business or their profession or their family. So they've got to - so freedom is the - freedom is the key point. I mean, it's perhaps a bit simplistic, but one way you can say it - you can describe it is that the Liberal Party, and I could make the same point about the National Party too, our coalition partners, we believe that government's job is to enable you to do your best. Labor, which has more faith in government, believes that government's job is to tell you what is best. So - so that's a fundamental thing."
Just like I said last week.

After that, maybe to sooth viewers like yours truly:
LS: "(…) What do you say to Australians who might think, 'Well how can Malcolm understand what it is to struggle for anything 'cause Malcolm's had everything that he's ever wanted?'."
MT: "Well, the truth is I have been extraordinarily lucky. I have had to struggle in my life. I didn't - I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, by any means. (…) Look, I'll give you an example. I remember when I was a partner of Goldman Sachs in New York, very successful investment bank, everyone was earning very big money, the chairman, the chief executive of the firm gave a sort of pep talk to the partners and he said, you know, 'We're doing well. We're making lots of money 'cause we work hard and we deserve it.' And I said to him afterwards, just quietly, I said, 'You know, there are taxi drivers in this city that work much longer hours than anyone does here and they don't earn very much at all.' So, the truth is, we don't really deserve our good fortune. (…)"
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Incidentally, rather disappointingly -- but ultimately predictably -- Turnbull launched the already trite salvo against the all-powerful unions and the Labor party:
"Now, you know, the Liberal Party (…) is the largest grassroots political movement in Australia. It is not run by any unions or big businesses or factions. (…) Our party room members do not come from one professional political class like most of Labor's do."
Ironically, this happened one week after opposition leader Bill Shorten threw the union movement under the bus, offering the new Turnbull government a peace deal on ChAFTA.

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I won't deny the guy is charming (ask Leigh Sales: video). He speaks well, is quite personable, smiles a lot. I'm sure he may be a formidable salesman.

That doesn't mean you want to buy his wares.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Believe it or Not: Keynes' Eight Weeks' Economic Training.


Frankly, I don't know what to say, other than I'm flabbergasted, discombobulated, utterly astonished:
"John Maynard Keynes was the most important economist of the 20th century, but he had only eight weeks’ undergraduate training in the subject and never sat an examination in it." (here)
Frankly, I am not sure I believe that. Something must be wrong; if readers can put me out of my misery in one way or the other, please do.

At the other hand, considering how closely his online fans ape the Master, that explains an awful lot.

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Honestly, it's shocking to think I might know more about economics than M'Lord. I cannot help but think of the old Maestro Ciruela:

(source)

UPDATE:
21-09-2015. In the popular imagination, Friedrich Hayek was Keynes' nemesis, its opposite and arch-enemy. It turns out the guy's assessment of Keynes may have been not only conservative, but actually unfairly positive:


Think about it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Underground Astronauts.


The discovery of Homo naledi is the kind of story that makes me happy and vicariously proud (see here and here).

("Tiny Cavers". source)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grasping at Epicycles with … Something.

"Cobbler, stick to thy last."
Prof. Brad DeLong -- who grasps at reality with all sorts of invertebrate body parts -- is a Keynesian macroeconomist of renown, as well as a history of economic thought buff, and now, it seems, he is trying his hand at the philosophy of science. And, it turns out, he is no realist, after all.

Replying to Prof. Daniel Little's "case for realism in the social realm" (Aug. 29, here), which would go against Milton Friedman's well-known dictum ("Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have 'assumptions' that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions."), DeLong takes the warpath (Aug. 30, here) and in characteristic style writes:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Turnbull Topples Tony.



"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here".
So, dear reader, if you are from Australia, you have the answer to your question: last night Malcolm Turnbull -- whom former PM Kevin Rudd sometimes called "the member for Goldman Sachs" -- ousted Tony Abbott as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia in a bloodless intra-party coup, Westminster-style, so popular among defenders of capitalist liberal democracy. (here)

Turnbull's promise: to Turn Abbott's Bull into a China-Australia Free-Trade Agreement, cut wages (oh, happiness!), and avoid a Coalition defeat in the next election.

I suppose opposition leader Bill Shorten,  whose "I'm less obnoxious than Abbott" strategy was proving successful, will have to re-think his position.

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As for me, I'm with The Guardian's First Dog on the Moon:

"If Malcolm Turnbull is the answer
we might be asking the wrong question."
Or here



UPDATE:

It didn't take long, huh? Regarding Turnbull being the answer to the wrong question:
"Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Malcolm Turnbull is the right man to lead Australia, right now. Why? Because he is committed to the right values of economic liberalism to repair the economy and second, as well as more importantly, is capable of persuading people of what it will take to do it." (here)
Told you so. We're so screwed.

In spite of the obvious signs, some Aussies want to believe Turnbull won't be so terrible. Perhaps -- those Aussies hoped -- he would at least address climate change and support same-sex marriage (see here):
"I feel he might struggle convincing the party room to address climate change. He's the right guy for the top job; it's been a long time coming."
"I'm confident this change of leadership will bring us a step closer to gay marriage in Australia. It appears Malcolm Turnbull is on our side and I just hope we see marriage equality as a result of the Liberals getting rid of Tony Abbott."
I know I'm being mean, but I can't help laughing at those short-lived hopes:

(source)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lenin's Reply to Keynes.


You may have seen that pearl of economic wisdom extracted from Keynes' "The Economic Consequences of the Peace":
"Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the Capitalist System was to debauch the currency." (here)
"Lenin was certainly right", Keynes added, for once agreeing with a plebe, a Marxist, and a Russian (whoever said miracles did not happen?).

Although both Keynesians and Austerians have written abundantly on this (the latter to embarrass the former), I find it instructive to go to the article where that quote's story was first told.

You see, Lord Keynes wasn't much given to document his statements or too demanding on the sources he quoted -- particularly when it comes to "Leninist Russia" -- so it was difficult to ascertain how did he learn about Lenin's thinking: "Lenin is said to have …" -- is said … by whom?

Michael V. White and Kurt Schuler ("Retrospectives: Who said 'Debauch the Currency': Keynes or Lenin?" Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 23, No. 3, Spring 2009, pages 213-222) did the detective work.

To make a long story short, Keynes must have taken that from an "interview" published on April 23, 1919, by the Daily Chronicle in London (reproduced the same day in the New York Times and a few days later by other outlets).

It appears the "interview" was an anti-Bolshevik fabrication. An obvious red flag -- pun intended -- is its authors' anonymity: White and Schuler found that Lenin did give interviews at the time, but none involved anonymous reporters. Why should this particular interview require anonymity?

White and Schuler do not touch on this, but if that interview was a forgery -- as it seems -- it wasn't the only one. Similar exposés of diabolical red conspiracy theories were not unknown at the time:
"On October 27 and 28, 1919, the Philadelphia Public Ledger published excerpts of an English language translation as the 'Red Bible,' deleting all references to the purported Jewish authorship and re-casting the document as a Bolshevik manifesto. The author of the articles was the paper's correspondent at the time, Carl W. Ackerman, who later became the head of the journalism department at Columbia University."
I suppose one should be thankful Lord Keynes wasn't a reader of the Public Ledger: the original of the "Red Bible" was the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion".

White and Schuler add a detail indicative of the climate of hysterical fear then prevalent among the Western "educated bourgeoisie" (same fear which gave Hitler in Germany much to laugh: "We used to roar with laughter at these silly faint-hearted bourgeoisie"):
"That mood was vividly illustrated in a July 1919 letter from Herbert Somerton Foxwell, the Cambridge and London University economist (…) Referring to the attempts to restore real wage rates and changes in working conditions, Foxwell continued:
'They
[the reckless British socialists, a.k.a. the Labour Party!] are out for anarchy. Possibly some of them believe they can build a better system on the ruins of the old. (…) They are a rather bad lot, from Ramsay MacDonald, the dear friend of our Premier [Prime Minister], downwards.
'If we had such a thing as a Government many of them would have been hanged as traitors long ago.
'I was at a dinner of very able City men & others on Thursday, when I never saw such profound pessimism. Keynes (junior) said 'you talk of what the position of the country will be after five years. The question is will it hold together for two years'."
Mercifully, the guests' Animal Spirits did not compel them to lynch Ramsay MacDonald, and so Keynes (junior) simply had to clutch his pearls fearfully.

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White and Schuler's paper is a must read (here).

Before closing: I have to confess my ignorance on everything Lenin. But his 1920 reply to Keynes, which White and Schuler sketched, was priceless:
"He [Keynes] has arrived at conclusions which are more weighty, more striking and more instructive than any a Communist revolutionary could draw, because they are the conclusions of a well-known bourgeois and implacable enemy of Bolshevism, which he, like the British philistine he is, imagines as something monstrous, ferocious, and bestial. Keynes has reached the conclusion that after the Peace of Versailles, Europe and the whole world are heading for bankruptcy. He has resigned, and thrown his book in the government's face with the words: 'What you are doing is madness'." (here)
Incidentally, Leninist Russia's policy towards public debt could have been supported by many a modern Keynesian economist advising the Greek government. Now, that would have been a sight to behold.

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The more I learn about Keynes, the more I'm reminded of his online mujahideen … You've gotta love Keynes.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Keynesian Uncertainty: Policy Implications.

Prof. J. Barkley Rosser expounds on the diverse conceptions of uncertainty Keynesians entertain and their policy implications ("Alternative Keynesian and Post Keynesian Perspectives on Uncertainty and Expectations", Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Summer 2001, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 545-566):
"Ultimately, of course, Post Keynesians must face the implications of the deep assertion of fundamental uncertainty by Keynes. Heiner's (1983, 1989) arguments are comforting that people will fall back on rules of thumb in moments of great uncertainty. But this is less useful when a la Shackle it is the crucial decisions of people themselves that are bringing about the uncertainty. There is the threat invoked by Coddington of a nihilism that cannot make any predictions even for policy. Davidson, who has excoriated so many for not properly recognizing Keynesian uncertainty, must also face this essential contradiction as he hopes for the successful implementation of beneficial policy that requires some degree of forecasting and ergodicity. His response (Davidson, 1996, p. 506) is to invoke Reinhold Neibuhr's Serenity Prayer: God grant us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed (immutable realities), courage to change things that should be changed (mutable realities), and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
"This observer suspects that Keynes himself would have found the line between these two to be uncertain." (emphasis mine)
Alan Coddington ("Deficient Foresight: A Troublesome Theme in Keynesian Economics", American Economic Review, 1982. Vol. 72, No. 3, p. 480):
"This paper has been concerned with a theme in Keynes' writing that it is convenient but -- as we have seen -- rather unsatisfactory to refer to as that of uncertainty in economic decision making. It has been my purpose here to present Keynes' foray into this area as an opportunistic but mild flirtation with subjectivism. I have argued that those who have been impressed and influenced by this strand in Keynes' work fall into two groups: (i) those who fail to see that Keynes' encounter with subjectivism is only a passing one; (ii) those who fail to see that subjectivism, once introduced, cannot be confined within the limits that would suit their [purportedly subversive of mainstream economics] analytical purposes." (emphasis mine)
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My two cents: While the adjective "opportunistic" -- which Coddington used -- fits Keynes wonderfully, I doubt "Keynes' encounter with subjectivism" was "only a passing one". On that, I'm sure the man was being sincere. After all, correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't he a believer in utility, too?

Regardless, there is something delightfully ironic in having to invoke God's help in order to apply Keynes' deep insights: here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Abba Lerner's Job Application: Unsuccessful.


If you have applied for a job recently, you know the drill: you do your best selling yourself to some headhunter/recruitment officer; you lodge the job application, and, after a while, with luck (often you don't get even that) you get a standard reply letter saying "unfortunately in this opportunity"…

Sounds familiar, yes?

Well, how do recruitment officers decide when an applicant is a good candidate for a job?

(source)

This is how Lionel Robbins -- with John Maynard Keynes' help -- decided about Abba Lerner:
"Between 1933 and 1939 Lerner published twenty-nine articles and notes, some of which made a lasting mark on the discipline, on both its substance and folklore. In a country that was not unready to appoint to a professorship in Oxbridge on the basis of a single article, Lerner should have been professor many times over. But his achievements were counterbalanced in British eyes by religious origin, dress, and manners: Abba Lerner, Jew from Eastern Europe and then the brick and grit of the East End, bare feet in sandals (because, he said, his feet sweat), unpressed trousers hanging, shirt collar open, was a hippie before his time.
"In some things he could be difficult; in others he was too permissive. He had a disconcerting way of saying what he thought. The would-be genteel folk of academe could not see him twirling a sherry glass and making small talk in wood-paneled common rooms. The story is told, based on unpublished letters, that Professor Lionel Robbins of LSE consulted Keynes in this regard when a post opened at the London School. Lerner was an unavoidable candidate.
"Keynes Brit-wittily replied by referring to Lerner's origin as from the Continent. Maybe, he wrote, if they found a job for Lerner as a cobbler during the day, they might wear him out and have him teach in the evening. Lerner did not get the job. He probably continued to pay for his particularities when he moved to the other side of the Atlantic. At any rate, he did not receive a post at a major university until very late in his career."
At least, that is David S. Landes' account, which he included in "Abba Ptachya Lerner (1903-1982), a Biographical Memoir" (National Academy of Sciences. Washington D.C. 1994, PDF) at Paul Samuelson's suggestion.

After reading the draft version of the paper, Samuelson wrote in the margin:
"Somewhere, you [Landes] should hint why Lerner never had the job offer Lange did. Jew; socialist; bohemian; libertine; no team player; genius." (see here)
Yann Giraud (whose research on Paul Samuelson's papers led to this subject) adds some more details to the story (quoting a second reliable source):
"When Lerner was considered for a professorship at the LSE, Robbins wrote to Keynes, in order to get his opinion on Lerner. In response, Keynes wrote the following: 'He is very learned and has an acute and subtle mind. But … if there is any fault in his logic, there is nothing to prevent it from leading him to preposterous conclusions … In thinking over the problem of Lerner's future, I feel in my own mind that the really right solution would be to make him take up some manual craft of a kind which would not exhaust him and would leave him free to pursue his own studies in dialectic in the evenings. I should like to see Lerner as a printer's compositor, or as a cobbler, or grinder of lenses like Spinoza; - free from 5 or 6 o'clock onwards to discuss high subtleties with his friends and to pursue, like the Talmudist that he is, the curious aspects of truth which appeal to him'. (reproduced from Colander and Landreth 1996, pp. 113-5)."

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There is a point to this -- apart from exposing Keynes' anti-Semitic mediocrity. Lerner's "faulty" logic -- according to Keynes, Lerner's opportunistic muse -- apparently led Lerner to functional finance: that, it seems, was his "preposterous conclusion".

This, as Prof. Bill Mitchell clearly understands -- even if the very idea is anathema to Keynes' online mujahideen  -- makes of Keynes a very unsuitable choice for MMT icon, just like Keynes' allegiance to the marginalist theory of value and distribution makes of him a very poor patron saint of Post Keynesianism (see here).

Now, readers are free to choose: either they stick to the Prophet and forget about the Gospel, or they pick the Gospel and kick the Prophet. But you can't have your cake and eat it.

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Call me a boorish proletarian if you will, but I can't believe nobody ever had the balls to punch Keynes.