Human cycles: History as science Sometimes, history really does seem to repeat itself. After the US Civil War, for example, a wave of urban violence fuelled by ethnic and class resentment swept across the country, peaking in about 1870. Internal strife spiked again in around 1920, when race riots, workers' strikes and a surge of anti-Communist feeling led many people to think that revolution was imminent. And in around 1970, unrest crested once more, with violent student demonstrations, political assassinations, riots and terrorism (see 'Cycles of violence'). To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. Cliodynamics is viewed with deep scepticism by most academic historians, who tend to see history as a complex stew of chance, individual foibles and one-of-a-kind situations that no broad-brush 'science of history' will ever capture. From ecology to history
Review: The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett We are rich enough. Economic growth has done as much as it can to improve material conditions in the developed countries, and in some cases appears to be damaging health. If Britain were instead to concentrate on making its citizens' incomes as equal as those of people in Japan and Scandinavia, we could each have seven extra weeks' holiday a year, we would be thinner, we would each live a year or so longer, and we'd trust each other more. The Spirit Level : Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett don't soft-soap their message. It is brave to write a book arguing that economies should stop growing when millions of jobs are being lost, though they may be pushing at an open door in public consciousness. The authors point out that the life-diminishing results of valuing growth above equality in rich societies can be seen all around us.
The Sons Also Rise Here are the stages of inequality rationalization: 1. Rising inequality? 2. 3. John Quiggin sees Tyler Cowen making the transition from #2 to #3, and does a systematic demolition job. Go read Quiggin. The official ideology of America’s elite remains one of meritocracy, just as our political leadership pretends to be populist. And here it comes. Running out of excuses The latest data on US incomes make for grim reading , both as regards the bottom of the income distribution where the number in (absolute) poverty is at an all-time high (the proportion of the population was the highest since 1993), and in the middle, where median household incomes have fallen back to the 1997 level. For some groups, such as male wage earners without college education, real incomes haven’t risen since around 1970 Having discussed this issue before I’m familiar with most of the standard arguments used to show that things really aren’t that bad. The big ones are (i) household size is decreasing (ii) the consumer price index doesn’t take adequate account of product quality (iii) the Earned Income Tax Credit isn’t taken into account (iv) health insurance and other benefits are undervalue fn1. I’m not going to bother with another round of “people have more of things that have become relatively cheaper”.
How (not) to defend entrenched inequality The endless EU vs US debate rolls on, but now with an odd twist. Although the objective facts about economic inequality, immobility and so on are far worse in the US than the EU, the political situation seems more promising. (I’m not talking primarily about electoral politics but about the nature of public debate.) In the EU, the right has succeeded in taking a crisis caused primarily by banks (including the central bank, and bank regulators) and blaming it on government profligacy, which is then being used to push through yet more of the neoliberal policies that caused the crisis. By contrast the success of Occupy Wall Street have changed the US debate, in ways that I think will be hard to reverse. This post by Tyler Cowen is an indication of how far things have moved. Update Cowen offers a non-response response here. Cowen makes seven arguments, ranging from weak to risible. 3. 5. A lot of handwaving here. 4. Another version of the same argument. 6. 2. 1. 7. fn1. fn2.
Tyler Cowen Education and personal life Cowen was born in Bergen County on January 21, 1962. At the age of 15, Cowen became the youngest ever New Jersey state chess champion. Cowen graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor of science degree in economics in 1983 and received his PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1987 with thesis titled Essays in the theory of welfare economics. At Harvard, he was mentored by game theorist Thomas Schelling, the 2005 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is married to Natasha Cowen, a lawyer. Writings Culture The Los Angeles Times has described Cowen as "a man who can talk about Haitian voodoo flags, Iranian cinema, Hong Kong cuisine, Abstract Expressionism, Zairian music and Mexican folk art with seemingly equal facility". One of Cowen's primary research interests is the economics of culture. Recent books In 2013 he published Average is Over on the future of modern economies. New York Times columns
Things I Forgot to Note at the Time: Tyler Cowen Doubles Down on His Claim That America Today Has too Much Income Mobiliy Washington Center for Equitable Growth It seems to me that it would be a good idea if I signed on to this Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and tried to drive the conversation. Let us try to focus our conversation on what is truly important, for all of our sakes: Let me try to bring four things together: 1. My promise to you: If you share our interest in public policy that leads to growth-with-equity—and would like to see a 21st century that is an American Century in a these-are-people-to-emulate rather than we-fear-their-drones-and-their-blackmail sense—then: 1.
What does the inequality-immobility link mean? Justin Wolfers writes: Predictably enough, I spent yesterday reading lefty blogs trumpeting Corak’s analysis, and right-leaning blogs who didn’t want to believe the inequality-mobility link, endorsing Winship. But both missed the bigger picture implications. Either you’re convinced by Corak that the data can be trusted, and that they show there’s a strong link between actual inequality and actual mobility. Or you believe Winship that the data are a pretty poor proxy for what’s really happening, and so there’s actually a very strong link that’s being disguised by imperfect data. Here is Scott’s latest response, with links to various critics. As for my take, Justin is painting himself into a corner here of his own making. Those are the problems and we should try to fix them. Focus on the two very real and fairly simple (as distinct from simple to fix) problems.
Why economic mobility measures are overrated By mobility I mean whether people are crossing into different income quintiles or deciles than the ones they were born into, or the ones they enjoyed at an earlier period of life. 1. If the general standard of living is rising (and I am more than willing to admit problems in this area for the United States), mobility takes care of itself over time. I find it more useful to focus on slow growth, if indeed that is the case. Just look at income growth for non-wealthy families and that is more useful than all the mobility measures put together. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Addendum: Here is more from Scott Winship.
Don't Act. Just Think. | Slavoj Žižek With rendition switcher Slavoj Zizek: Capitalism is . . . and this, almost I’m tempted to say is what is great about it, although I’m very critical of it . . . Capitalism is more an ethical/religious category for me. It’s not true when people attack capitalists as egotists. I am, of course, fundamentally anti-capitalist. This is why, as I always repeat, with all my sympathy for Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s result was . . . The other thing, you know, it’s a little bit boring to listen to this mantra of “Capitalism is in its last stage.” Also, let’s not remember--and I’m saying this as some kind of a communist--that the twentieth century alternatives to capitalism and market miserably failed. . . . My advice would be--because I don't have simple answers--two things: (a) precisely to start thinking. Second thing, I’m not saying people are suffering, enduring horrible things, that we should just sit and think, but we should be very careful what we do. Directed / Produced by
Critical Theory: Useful Distinction or Unconscious Smugness? On September 18th, 2011, Barry Wellman, the early and rather prescient scholar of the Internet, posed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question to the Communication and Information Technology Section of the American Sociology Association (CITASA): “‘Critical’ – aren’t we all?” This post was precipitated by a call for papers for special issue of tripleC entitled Marx is Back: The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Communication Studies Today (no affiliation with the author). Specifically, the call invited papers that address (my emphasis): what it means to ask Marx’s questions in 21st century informational capitalism, how Marxian theory can be used for critically analyzing and transforming media and communication today, and what the implications of the revival of the interest in Marx are for the field of Media and Communication Studies. Shortly after it was sent, Wellman responded to the call, saying: I. Critical Theory, on the other hand, Two points: 1.) 2.) II.