Saturday, November 26, 2011

In a Nutshell

This is from They Might Be Giants; however, I think it applies to all manner of current problems from technocratisme to OWS

Who Do You Think You Are

Was Kennedy a "great" president? I really have no idea. He pursued a militarized foreign policy and made some particularly inapt remarks about segregation. He died, of course, well before his second term. Does anyone actually think that Ross Douthat possesses the nous and information to judge Kennedy? Why does this shallow lout of an ill-informed boob have a place on the national newspaper of record? Surely, there are better candidates than this dim bulb.

Because of a recent interaction with a NYT reporter, it is becoming clearer to me that knowledge takes a back seat to something else and what that some thing else is, isn't exactly clear.

A Market Forces Thanks Giving

I've mentioned Graeber's notion of homo economicus as being like a sociopath at an orgy before; but, this post via on the rational application of the iron laws of supply and demand makes the point in a more elegant way:
First, whatever Alice has spent preparing the turkey is a sunk cost, and irrelevant to deciding what to do next.

Second, Alice would be better of selling the turkey to either Dives or Lazarus than keeping it for herself, and either trade would also benefit the buyer, so that's a win-win. Either trade would be Pareto-improving. However, neither trade is strictly better for everyone than the other: if she sells to Lazarus, Dives is disappointed, and if she sells to Dives, Lazarus starves. Of course, if we are being exact, Lazarus starves to death whether Alice keeps the turkey or sells it to Dives, so that trade makes Lazarus no worse off.

Third, Lazarus can only offer ten cents. Since Dives would be willing to spend up to $5000, Alice will prefer to sell to Dives. Since Dives, being a rational agent, knows how much Lazarus can pay, he will offer 11 cents, which Alice will accept as the superior offer. (Alternately, we add in a Walrasian auctioneer, and reach this price by tatonnement.) The market clears, Alice is 11 cents better off, Dives enjoys a consumer surplus of $4999.89, and Lazarus starves to death in the street, clutching his dime. Nothing can be changed without making someone worse off, so this is Pareto optimal.
Neoliberalism in a nutshell: they don't want you to starve it's just the logic of market forces at work.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Economic Chaos Explained

By an Irishman no less


The Paterno Problem

Way back in 2005 Vicky Triponey, compliance officer for the university, wrote to the PSU president that Paterno was secretive and insisted on disciplining his "student-athletes" as he saw fit not as required by PSU's rules and regulations. She also pointed out that
Coach Paterno would rather we NOT inform the public when a football player is found responsible for committing a serious violation of the law and/or our student code . . . despite any moral or legal obligation to do so.
And of course nothing was done.[1] How bad do you think things are on one of the bigger income generating teams? At some point, the steady drip of yearly corruption, and I don't mean the nonsense like Ohio State's tattoo scandal, is going to sink the whole mess. My suggestion for the various college administrations is to privatize their athletic departments; sell the whole mess to the NFL and the NBA as  pre-made audience filled minor league sport leagues for multiple billions of dollars and then use the money to rebuild higher education.

[1]To be fair the article linked quotes others from Triponey's time at PSU, she quit in  2007, saying na uh, we did so oversee Paterno's football factory and everybody was hyper ethical and really good. Given what we now know, I'll leave it to you to decided if anything was, in fact, done to rein in Paterno's protection of criminals.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

UC Davis and How It Got That Way

From the LRB Blog:
Like most US universities, Davis maintains its own police force, employing (as of 2009) 101 people (including administrators), far more than the largest academic departments. The officer wielding the spray is on record as earning $110,000 in 2010, more than all but the better paid full professors. The idea of a campus police force, established across the UC system in 1947, came about to reflect jurisdiction over university property and, perhaps, to apply somewhat more tolerant standards to minor student misdemeanours than might be expected from the public force.
So now those who protect and serve, much like the athletic departments, are bigger and wealthier than the schools of which they are supposed to be a part.

It's not just the brutality and stupidity; it's the venality and cupidity of the both these campus cops and all athletic departments. The primary mission of any university or college is the creation and dissemination of knowledge and skills for creating new knowledge and assessing the validity of arguments and evidence. How is it, exactly, that the primary mission is now seen as silencing students when they act as citizens and pandering to the socially constructed desire to root, root, root for the home team?

Can you imagine if politically active students chanted EAT SHIT; FUCK YOU as do the those at Camp Randall? Would the administration's response be a sternly worded email? Or a hastily administered tasering? Or what about the semi-perminant K-town at Duke? How is that students camping on university land is somehow cute when it's associated with sport but a disaster in the making when the student as citizen engages in political activity?

The world remains a horrid place; although most of its inhabitants are pleasant bunch.

On Luxury

In class last week we were discussing the luxury debate in the 17th and 18th centuries using  Hume and Rousseau as our points of entry. I hadn't really thought about it but Hume's contribution simply ignores the substantive moral and existential questions Rousseau makes. Whether Hume was responding directly to Rousseau or no, Rousseau's position is pretty much bog standard when it comes to the pro-luxury theorist.

This got me to thinking about David Graeber's Debt . I mentioned this text before, but this time I want to mention Brad DeLong's response to Graeber destruction of homo economicus as a natural being. He accepts, it seems, that Graeber is right but that's it. The Rouseavian idea that institutions create, he would have said corrupt, human nature doesn't seem to require rethinking economic policy. Put it this way, neoliberals like DeLong have been arguing about the naturalness of their preferred economic policies when those policies are creating or attempting to create a world that offers the greatest good to the greatest many.

This last desire lay behind Smith's argument for unleashing humanity's, he would have said man's, desire to fulfill the infinite wants of the mind.  Hume, in "On Commerce," is clear that the mindless pursuit of luxury will provide the greatest good for the greatest many and, even better, offer the state endless funds and the superfluous hands necessary to staff an army should war be necessary. Yet if Graeber is right, the wants of the mind aren't infinite until somebody or set of somebodies has come along and convinced us that they are.

When you think about it, who really does get up in the morning and say: "Today I want more than I can use and I don't care who gets it in the neck, so long as I have more tonight than I have right now; ideally with gold leaf." Surely then the neoliberal project to create the reverse Omelas in which we all live is tied up in convincing all of us that the unnatural is the natural, which requires a kind of glib contrarianism designed to show that left is, in fact, right.

So why is it that the economists cannot or do not engage with the historians, anthropologists, and other of the humane sciences when it is clear as a bell that economists are just making stuff up? This last point explains the continued assault on education as the a humanist project. If students learn how to think and write, how to research and analyze, they will become the kind of citizens with whom neoliberals and their followers cannot deal.

In other words, I need a full time job an DeLong needs to retire or the future gets in the neck. Neoliberals are dedicated to a project that avoids looking at things as they are in favor of making stuff up; historians are dedicated to looking at things as they are and avoids making stuff up.

Democracy Explained

Piet Hein Grooks on:

His party was the Brotherhood of Brothers,
and there were more of them than of the others.
That is, they constituted that minority
which formed the greater part of the majority.
Within the party, he was of the faction
that was supported by the greater fraction.
And in each group, within each group, he sought
the group that could command the most support.
The final group had finally elected
a triumvirate whom they all respected.
Now, of these three, two had final word,
because the two could overrule the third.
One of these two was relatively weak,
so one alone stood at the final peak.
He was: THE GREATER NUMBER of the pair
which formed the most part of the three that were
elected by the most of those whose boast
it was to represent the most of the most
of most of most of the entire state --
or of the most of it at any rate.
He never gave himself a moment's slumber
but sought the welfare of the greater number.
And all people, everywhere they went,
knew to their cost exactly what it meant
to be dictated to by the majority.
But that meant nothing, -- they were the minority.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011



It does capture the nonchalance with which those paid to protect and serve behave toward the innocuous. From the comments in the above link, a tumblr dedicated to the visual. If the pen were, in fact, mightier than the sword, the 99% would own the world.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's Wrong With College Sports

The University of Miami football team was involved in a scandal because of its association with a Ponzi
schemer who also provided prostitutes and related etc for football players. In a move designed, one assumes, more meaningful punishment, they have voluntarily forgone post-season play. Oh, yeah:
The Hurricanes have tepid support for their football team even in the best of times, so the decision will probably end up saving Miami a significant amount of money in travel costs and unsold tickets.
That's some kind of punishment: if you all will just leave us alone we agree to not cost the university millions of dollars.

College sports breed, were told, character. It is becoming increasingly clear that it isn't a character you'd want.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mistakes Were Made

This police chief is either a clueless fool or a sociopath:

This chancellor is beneath contempt and the student prove that by treating as someone beneath contempt: