December 2013

Ritchie on Veblen

First, such consumption, supported by a whole PR industry that starts with the FT’s ‘How to spend it’ and flows on from there, this spending is designed to distort economic perception and create imbalance: this is what Thorsten Veblen taught a century or so ago, even if his work is largely ignored by economists now.

Nobody at all ignores Veblen. His insights are now central to a certain part of economics. The whole idea of conspicuous consumption is built on it. Top end iPhones, Luis Vuiton, Grey Goose vodka, absolutely everyone, from economist through businessman to stock analyst knows what’s going on here.

Hell, we even call them Veblen Goods. What is this claim to “ignoring”?

Polly on politics

Some exceptions – the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, Kenneth Clark, Shirley Williams – have the gift of sounding like themselves, as if they believe what they say. Put the journalist Owen Jones on a platform and he blows your socks off. The public trusts Margaret Hodge’s authentic passion on tax-dodging companies, though Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage suggest verbal felicity can be an actor’s knack, not proof of honesty.

One of
her examples is a complete know nothing, the other is lying through her teeth all the time and then we’ve Boris and Nigel as well.

Voters may pretend to like honesty, but they are still inclined to back whoever pretends they can do “more for less” – Swedish services on US taxes.

Tsk, we’re all very naughty boys and girls, aren’t we? We decline to pay for what Polly thinks we should have. Perhaps she’d better elect another populace?

How to tell when the loons are out

First, the current dominance of neoliberal, elitist ideology threatens to create a culturally totalitarian Orwellian society with no space for alternative conceptions.

They’ll be mentioning hegemonic relations next, if not class antagonism.

This closing down of the discussion of alternative analyses is exemplified by the revolt of economics students against being taught exclusively the (manifestly untenable) neoclassical orthodoxies, and their demands that alternative theories – those of Marx, Adam Smith and Keynes – should be included in their curriculums.

Snigger. Keynes most definitely is taught to them: I actually checked the curriculum for that. And Smith will be there of course: as the foundation of much of this neoliberalism. And why would Marx be taught in an economics course? A philosophy one, perhaps, a history of failed ideas certainly, but economics?

CiF comment of the day

We’d go up to him and kneel before him, holding up the badges of office so he could take them. And we’d say

“Oh mighty if slightly pigmentally lacking warrior, we pledge fealty to you and your descendants in perpetuity. Lead us into our bright new future, where all have chocolate bars, none shall shiver, and even the fuckwits know that if you have a sleeping bag it’s no good unless you get in it first.”

But he would say, “No, my people need me” And he’d turn and walk into the mist and at first we’d see his outline in the fog but then he’d be seen no more.

And some of the women would weep at this point, but you and I would turn and walk away, shaking our heads in wonder, and you would put your arm around my shoulders. In a manly way.

Is there nothing duct tape cannot do?

Such as allow the crippled to surf?

How does a woman who has lost the use of her legs get to enjoy the thrill of surfing when she cannot stand up on the surfboard?

Pascale Honore, 50, whose dreams of learning to surf were left in tatters after a car accident 18 years ago, has found a way with the help of one of her son’s friends – by duct taping herself to his back.

Paul Collier gets the KB

So it’s Sir Paul Collier now.

“For services to promoting research and policy change in Africa.”

That’ll nicely piss off Jeff Sachs.

Another interesting one:

Michael Anderson. Prime Minister’s Envoy on UN Development Goals, Department for International Development. For services to International Development. (Brighton, East Sussex)

Commander of the Bath there. And while it is indeed true that those UN development goals have been met, and in the case of poverty levels met early and surpassed, it’s been absolutely sod all to do with what any government aid has done. Still, baubles for those who can claim success, eh?

And look who gets an OBE?

Mrs Catherine Mary Court. Co-founder, For services to Families. (Hertfordshire)

Tee Hee

A Greenpeace campaigner claims he was forced to live on bread and water while being held in a Russian prison because it didn’t offer a vegetarian alternative.

Obviously Russian prisons have improved if they’re even claiming to offer meat products in them.

£10 an hour for a tart?

I have a feeling that the Mail has dropped a zero here:

A job as a £10-an-hour prostitute was advertised on a government website.

Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions mistakenly allowed the post on Direct Gov.

I know times are bad but £10 an hour really ain’t the going market rate.

There’s a problem with this Mr. Huhne

The science also opens up the possibility that the victims of climate change could begin to take international legal action against the countries responsible, particularly the early industrialisers, such as Britain, Belgium and Germany, whose carbon continues to warm the planet a century after it was emitted. Legal action is not a substitute for politics, but it could highlight the evidence in an uncomfortable way.

There is no international tort law. And countries aren’t responsible for emissions either. Individuals are. By consuming things that have had emissions embedded in their production.

Imagine, just as an example, that my little stove keeping my office warm this morning were coal or oil fired, instead of wood. And further that the emissions from it caused a Bangladeshi farmer’s land to sink beneath the waves. Get over all of the idea that we can’t trace it so accurately.

So, who is responsible for those emissions? The coal or oil company that sold me the fuel? Nope. The country, Portugal, in which I am burning it? Nope. My country of origin, the UK? Nope. I suppose we could try blaming the dogs sharing the heat with me but in reality it is me that is responsible for those emissions. And thus it is me that should be sued.

And there is no legal system at all that provides a manner of suing me for this tort, assuming that it exists.

Now, it is I suppose possible that we could say that governments are responsible for the private actions of citizens or residents. But that’s the point at which we also give governments the power to control those private actions of citizens or residents. And that’s also the point at which you all get told to fuck off I’m afraid.

This is a bit silly from the CBI

Companies benefiting from the economic recovery must pay their long-suffering workers more next year, the head of the CBI in an unprecedented attack on firms he accuses of keeping “far too many people stuck in minimum-wage jobs”.

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI, Britain’s biggest business lobby group, will criticise many of the 240,000 companies he is paid to represent for failing to pass on their new-found prosperity to employees. He will tell employers – who in the FTSE 100 are paid 136 times the national average – that they must ensure that all citizens benefit from the recovery.

In an unusually forthright new year message, Cridland says businessmen and women must do more to help those paid the least. “The recovery is taking root and business leaders have a spring in their step compared to this time last year, but this is no time to rest on our laurels,” he will say in his annual message to business leaders. “As the financial situation of many firms begins to turn a corner, one of the biggest challenges facing businesses is to deliver growth that will mean better pay and more opportunities for all their employees after a prolonged squeeze.”

Pay isn’t determined by how profitable a company is….if it were then when a company makes losses then all should get pay cuts, yes?

Rather, pay is determined by the alternative employment opportunities, and the wages there, that the workers have. Which, in a time of high unemployment ain’t much.

But as unemployment falls then those alternatives get better and pay rises will quite naturally start to rise above the inflation rate.

This is something that we can quite happily leave to the market unadorned.

It’s also worth noting that all economists agree that the recent falls in real wages are what has stopped the unemployment rate from exploding……which is an interesting point of agreement. For the flip side of that is that of course rising wages have unemployment effects.

So, next time you see someone saying that a rise in hte minimum wage will have no employment effect, try and find out their views on the above. If falling wages reduce unemployment then why won’t mandated higher ones cause it?

Why we must abolish the European Union

European Union officials take three times more sick days off work than an average British worker in the private sector, research by The Telegraph suggests.

According to official figures, European Commission officials took an average of 14.6 days off sick last year, with one in seven staff absent for more than 20 days.

By contrast, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry found that British staff working in the private sector took around five sick days a year.

European officials even outstripped Britain’s civil servants and public sector staff, who took half as many days off work.

The stresses and strains of actually running the EU are quite obviously too much. We cannot allow people, good, honest even if continental, folk to be subjected to such horrifying conditions.

We’ll just have to close the whole thing down I’m afraid.

You what? The cost of queer parenting?

Now I think I can understand this from the male point of view. Hiring a surrogate to carry a baby to term is always going to be an expensive matter. But from a lesbian?

I’m 23, I’m queer, and I want kids – not now, but in the next decade. It’s my inherent desire, but it’s not without complications. I hear all the time that I’m too young to be worrying about something as far-off in the future as a family, but most people don’t understand the costs of accomplishing queer parenthood.

Everyone grows up hearing kids are expensive. What queers don’t hear – because a lot of us aren’t out when we’re young, and because heteronormativity dominates popular discussion of family – is that our children will probably be even more expensive than other people’s kids. Because, for us, conception and parental rights aren’t free.

As a millennial, I am: college educated, underemployed, and saddled with high student loan debt and an increasingly obscene cost of living. In these ways, I’m hardly unique. But, when you find yourself googling the price of sperm while planning your monthly budget, you realize your fiscal concerns are different from those of the average millennial. Although I’m young, if I have children, it will be because I financially plan for them now.

The median price of artificial insemination (cost #1) with donor sperm (cost #2) hovers around $2,500, and it can take upwards of four tries (cost #3, 4, 5) for an embryo to be fertilized. Artificial insemination is often supplemented with monthly fertility drugs (cost #6), because frozen sperm has a lower success rate for fertilization. The price of attempting biological parenthood is variable, but generally expensive.


In most parts of the world you can get pregnant for free any Friday night you like. Sure, it might involve having sex in a manner you’re not keen on but then having a child is going to involve a lot of things you’re not keen on over the years from stretch marks through varicose veins to dirty nappies.

And if you want to be picky about it there will usually be someone in the extended circle happy to help out with filling the turkey baster.

The cost to single women, lesbian women, of getting pregnant really isn’t one of the great costs that we’ve all got to worry about.

Some of these science jokes are OK actually

Why did Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli work in very small garages? Because they were quantum mechanics.

A blowfly goes into a bar and asks: “Is that stool taken?”

What does the ‘B’ in Benoit B Mandelbrot stand for? Benoit B Mandelbrot.

Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the other… eh? Hang on…

A statistician gave birth to twins, but only had one of them baptised. She kept the other as a control.

A weed scientist goes into a shop. He asks: “Hey, you got any of that inhibitor of 3-phosphoshikimate-carboxyvinyl transferase? Shopkeeper: “You mean Roundup?” Scientist: “Yeah, that’s it. I can never remember that dang name.”

After sex, one behaviourist turned to another behaviourist and said, “That was great for you, but how was it for me?”

And of course we all know the two economist jokes the punchlines of which are, “first, assume we have a can opener” and the other “but who do you think created the chaos?”

Dear God Will Hutton’s an idiot

So which is going to be the top economy and when?

Here is a puzzle that preoccupies futurologists, business strategists, economists and the world’s foreign offices. Who is going to do best or worst economically over the next 15 years out of the world’s current top 10 economies? In 2013, the US is comfortably number one, twice the size of China and two-and-half times the size of the number three, Japan. After Germany at fourth comes a cluster of countries with less than a trillion dollars of GDP separating them. France just pips Britain at sixth. Then follow Brazil, Russia, Italy and Canada with India, hurt by the collapse of the rupee, just outside the top 10 at 11.

The conventional wisdom, informed by conventional economics, is clear, represented faithfully by the conservative-leaning Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) in its annual world economic league table released last week. The European economies, especially France and Italy, will sink down the league table, burdened by taxation, welfare and ageing populations. China is inexorably rising to take over the top spot, but in 2028, later than the CEBR thought last year. India will climb to number three. Russia will do well, as will Mexico and eventually Brazil. The UK, if it continues to shrink the state, keeps taxes low, deregulates its labour markets, continues to be open to immigration and disengages with Europe, may only fall one place in the 2028 ranking to seventh. But even though the UK and US will fare better than mainland Europe, the relative decline of the west will continue.

Fucking facepalm or what?

At no point at all does he even hint at the idea that these are gross GDP figures, not GDP per capita figures. Of course China’s going to be one of the top economies: there’s 1.3 billion people there for fuck’s sake. To think that they’re not going to pass the US at some point is to insist that they’re always going to have, per head, less than one quarter of the income of the 300 million in the US.

Germany, Italy (and to a lesser extent France) are simply going to have fewer people in the future in their workforces. The UK is predicted to have more. Same goes for India, Brazil etc.

This isn’t about economic policies (as long as people manage to avoid the usual communist and socialist idiocies) but demographics.

Man’s an idiot.

The bill to send most wives to jail

It’s not that I’m a cynic about human relationships or anything but:

Domestic abuse involving “emotional blackmail” – but no violence – could become a criminal offence carrying a heavy jail term under tough new measures published for the first time.

Campaigners are drawing up a draft Bill which proposes making it illegal to “make contact with a victim in an aggressive way” and for a partner to “intend to control or coerce” their spouse.

Anyone found guilty of the new offence would face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

That control or coerce part looks a bit dodgy to me.

The Bill offers a wide definition of the kinds of behaviour that should be criminalised, including attempts to exert financial control over a spouse or partner.

That men earn more than women and that women decide upon the spending of 80% of disposable income are both facts. And there would seem to be more than a smidgeon of financial control being exerted there.

Critically, its definition of abuse includes “controlling or coercive behaviour” which would “encompass but is not limited to physical, financial, sexual, psychological or emotional abuse”.

“Controlling behaviour” would also lead to criminal charges, including when a partner makes another person “subordinate”, “exploits their resources” or “deprives them of the means needed for independence”.

And that’s similarly a stunningly wide description. It could apply, for example, to the withdrawal of nookie until he agrees to splash out for that new sofa. And as to depriving them of the means of independence. Does that mean that divorce settlements where the bloke ends up living in a bedsit will now lead to 14 years in pokey for the ex-wife?

Hell, the way this is being described that tsk! followed by a deep sigh and the relegation to the second bedroom for being a bit tipsy could be described as “emotional blackmail”.

I’m deeply unconvinced that this has been thought through. And sure, my examples are extreme. But I can’t see anything in this that suggest that such activities won’t be covered by it.

Hmm, I wonder whether threatening to report someone under this law for not offering the nookie in a controlling manner would be evidence of a crime being committed by not so offering or evidence of an intention to control or coerce and thus the threat of revelation being a crime?

America did last near 200 years as the land of the free

Which is a pretty good run for a socio-political system.

One of the people I hit it off with was Hoover fellow Jim Mattis, recently a Marine Corps general. He told me about being caught in a bar at the the tender age of 19. He was ready to fess up and go along with the cop but then the cop jabbed Mattis hard in the back with his club. Mattis reacted and decked the cop. He went to jail for 21 days. The next morning in class, I told my students, all of whom are officers in the U.S. military, the Australian military, or the U.S. Coast Guard, the story. One of the students said, “If he did that today, there would be a good chance he’d be shot.” I looked around the room and noticed a number of the students nodding sadly.