Beijing Paper: Constant Capital, Accumulation, Sustainability, and Economic Theory

I would appreciate any comments about a paper I will present in Beijing.  I hope that the title describes the content.


Pity the 1%; The Ressurection of Ayn Rand

With the popularity of Vampire culture, you will certainly appreciate this over the top call to give back to the 1%.

Standing on Principle

I am continually amazed by the rhetorical use of principle and probability.  States’ rights are a perfect example.  To begin with, this concept first evolved as a tactic to protect the rights of slave owners, hardly a noble objective.  Since then, it has become almost synonymous with freedom.  States should have the right to determine who can and cannot get married.  The federal government has no business sticking its nose into such matters.  On the other hand, states’ right to legislate on marijuana use is routinely overruled.  Similarly, states’ right to control business abuses, such as the spreading of pollution, are routinely overruled by Congress, including strong upholders of states’ rights.

The probability of somebody being injured by a consumer product or an industrial process, such as fracking, are typically dismissed out of hand.  On the other hand, protection against terrorism is treated differently.  Richard Cheney offers an excellent example of that approach: “If there’s a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as if it is a certainty in terms of our response,” Cheney said.”  Of course, the kind of actions that Cheney proposed greatly increase the probability of terrorism, which might be desirable in the sense that it offers a welcome pretext to build up the bureaucratic powers justified by such threats.

Appeals to probability are especially interesting because of the ease with which measures of likelihood can be easily manipulated.  Here is one of my favorite examples concerns Richard Thaler’s measure of the value of a statistical life, a measure that Thaler soon realized was a wildly underestimated.  This underestimation, meant that the cost-benefit analysis of workers’ protection was far more likely to prove unfavorable.  Here is a snippet from my Invisible Handcuffs book to show how creatively such analysis could be applied:

 “John D. Graham, a fervent opponent of regulation, who became President George W. Bush’s head of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, even went so far as to claim that spending money on regulations instead of vaccinating children is tantamount to “statistical murder.”   Ironically, I know of no case when the anti-regulators came out in support of any program to actually vaccinate children, perhaps preferring to be able to recycle vaccination as a straw man to wield against all regulation.”

How Greedy Workers’ Pensions Destroy the Economy, Or Not.

Let’s begin with one of these greedy workers.  Or maybe he was one of the people who fret about the workers’ pensions?

Maremont, Mark. 2013. “For McKesson’s CEO, A Pension of $159 Million.” Wall Street Journal (25 June): p. B 1.

“Executive pension plans sometimes grow to a hefty size, amounting to tens of millions of dollars, as extra retirement cushions for long-serving CEOs.”

“Then there’s the record $159 million pension benefit of John Hammergren, the current chairman and CEO of drug distributor McKesson Corp. MCK –0.93% That’s how much he would have received in a lump-sum payment had he voluntarily departed on March 31, McKesson disclosed in its annual proxy filing on Friday.”

“Compensation consultants say it’s by far the largest pension on file for a current executive of a public company, and almost certainly the largest ever in corporate America. It’s also more than double the value of the 54-year-old Mr. Hammergren’s pension six years ago.

“Mr. Hammergren has been at McKesson for 17 years, 12 of them as sole CEO, so he is significantly younger and has a shorter tenure than most other executives who have accumulated large pensions.”

“A giant pension plan was at the heart of a controversy a decade ago over the pay package of Richard Grasso, former chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. An outside investigation found that Mr. Grasso had amassed pension benefits with a lump-sum value of $126 million.”

My mistake.  He was probably one of those who groused about workers’ pensions

Or How About the Big Money People who Handle their Pensions?

Braun, Martin Z. and Chris Christoff. 2013. “Detroit’s Pension Funds Dogged by Bad Deals.” Bloomberg Businessweek (28 July): pp. 42-44.

They detail how the Detroit pension plans have lost more than $10 million on each of several deals with shady characters.

California also got snookered by similar crooks.

Apologies regarding Muscular Christianity, Eugenics, War, Football, and Imperialism

I do now know why my attachment did not work with the blog.

I have posted a link here:


Muscular Christianity, Eugenics, War, Football, and Imperialism

In the late nineteenth century, a fear about the softness of American society raised doubts about the capacity of the United States to carry out its imperial destiny.  This problem was associated with the final settlement of the frontier.  As important as the development of open space was to the expansion of the territory of the United States, the completion of the continental expansion brought an attendant fear that traditional masculinity was on the wane and would bring about a withering of the individual and the national body.  This fear spread to the church as well, where the result was thought to be a moral softening (Miller 2011, p. 38).  To make matters worse, waves of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were flooding American cities with foreign cultures.  This concern became so pressing that talk of “race suicide” became common.

Here is the complete section:

Is Obama falling into a trap that he set for himself

The Sarin WMD red line rhetoric together with the news that Iran is supposed to be sending troops to Syria might open the door to the long-desired war with those evil-doers.

I fear that he will not back off his warlike rhetoric as easily as his vague progressive promises when he ran for office.

Wall Street Journal exposition of Marx’s Theory of Crises

Overcapacity Fuel Costs Hit Shipping – WSJ

This article parallels the analysis that I used in Railroading Economics to analyze the Great Depression of the late 19th century.  Overcapacity and new technology combine to force companies to invest in technologies that have even greater economies of scale with the effect that they swamp the market even more.

Mayday in Slovenia

I just returned from Slovenia, where I had the privilege of giving a plenary lecture, as did Michael Lebowitz and David McNally.  The experience went well beyond my wildest dreams.  Some 16 years ago some economics students organized the Workers and Punks University.  The staying power alone of this organization deserves great credit.  I have no idea how well the Workers and Punks University operated in its infancy, but its work today is incredible.  During the conference, the organizers held a press conference to announce the beginning of a new political party.

In the United States, such an event would have been ignored, except perhaps for a few snide comments.  In Slovenia, from what I understand the press corps took the party seriously.  Even more surprising, much of the reporting seems to have been relatively positive, according to what I was told.  The goal of the party is to create an alliance with each of the states that made up Yugoslavia.  The only other regions that were in attendance, as far as I know, where Croatia and Serbia.  Unlike the United States where lasting regional resentment about our Civil War continue after a century and a half, I saw no sign of anything similar at the meeting.

In the sessions devoted to the strategy for the party people differed with one another, but they did so with respect.


Finally, the level of political and intellectual sophistication I saw was absolutely amazing.  The young people were intensely interested in ideas, especially those relevant to building a new society.

Religion, Economics, and Deskilling Work

Despite the Saudi belief that beheading by skill swordsmen is the way God wants to carry out executions, a shortage of skilled swordsman has led the government to turn to firing squads.


Kirkpatrick, David D. 2013. “Saudis Consider Firing Squads for Executions.” New York Times (11 March): p. A 10.

“After centuries of public beheadings, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is considering firing squads as an alternative means of execution.   A special inter-ministerial committee has recommended that “because of the scarcity of swordsmen and their unavailability in a number of regions” the princes who govern Saudi provinces should be free to use firing squads, according to a statement from the committee, reported in Saudi newspapers on Sunday.”

“The few officially authorized swordsmen were so busy traveling between different regions to conduct executions that they sometimes arrived late, “which causes security confusion” complicated by “the resulting spreading of rumors through modern technology,” the statement noted. Saudi Arabia is the only country that still executes criminals by beheading, carried out with a sword and conducted in public. The kingdom has beheaded 15 people so far this year and more than 75 in each of the past two years.”


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