Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Heartland Labor Forum at KKFI in Kansas City interviewed me on June 14.

I come on in the second half, maybe around 35 minutes into the show.

Robert McChesney Interviews Me

Interview by Robert McChesney. Media Matters. WILL Champaign Urbana (17 June 2012).


First Stab at a New Book: The Matrix: The Conjunction of War, Economic Theory, and the Economy

Vincent Portillo, a colleague, will join me in putting a new book together.  We only have 10 paragraphs to show for our effort, but any comments will be very much appreciated.  Getting an introduction down is important, not only for communicating with readers, but for sorting out our own ideas.  Thanks.


This book is an exploration of the complex and fascinating interactions between war, the economy, and economic thinking.  Whether you realize it or not, a complex Matrix resulting from the interactions of war, economics, and economic thinking creates a powerful force field that affects almost everything you do.  This force field, not unlike gravity, is both pervasive and invisible.  However, the effects of the Matrix are unpredictable.  In a world vulnerable to the possibility of serious destruction as the result of both military and economic miscalculations, taking account of this Matrix is imperative.


The effects of the Matrix are far more complex than those of gravity.  Obviously, an engineer designing an airplane must take into account the force of gravity to avoid future calamities.  Complete command of the necessary scientific knowledge and care in the building of the plane is insufficient to guarantee future safety.  The human interface creates an ever-present risk once pilots, mechanics, and air traffic controllers take over responsibilities for the plane.

A far more intricate network of human behaviors interacting with the Matrix leads to pervasive uncertainty, making the challenges of responding to the Matrix are far more daunting than the straightforward responsibilities of those who are responsible for the plane’s safety.  The Matrix presents another dimension of complications.  If a pilot flies into a mountain, the immediacy of the consequences makes interpretation of the event fairly simple.


In the case of the Matrix, choices today may set off a chain of events that may have important consequences years or decades in the future.  Looking back to identify a single — or even a small set of events as the cause is very difficult.   After all, events occurring in previous millennia still remain the subject of ongoing debates among historians.  To make matters even more complex, the Matrix can cause contradictory outcomes.


Here again, the human element comes into play.  Any attempt at identifying causality comes up again the tendency to understand the sequence of events in light of pre-existing ideas or ideology.  Consequently, one must exercise extreme caution in any attempt to manipulate the Matrix.  Nonetheless, the risks of doing nothing are even more dangerous, considering the potential dangers or perhaps even likelihood of environmental, economic, or military disaster.  Actions to prevent cataclysmic outcomes require great care, backed up with a relatively holistic perspective.


Economics occupies a special place in this intricate Matrix with economics serving as a bridge between the other two principals of the Matrix: war and the economy.  Almost unintentionally, in the seventeenth century, modern economics developed to a large extent in response to questions raised by the needs and the consequences of warfare.

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David Barkin Interviews Me

The publisher of the Review of Radical Political Economics David Barkin interview me as a lead-in to an autobiographic-analytical article that the journal will publish in December.  For those of you who might not know — he works in Mexico, where he is doing excellent work on the ground with indigenous people as well as on the Mexican economy.


I had trouble with the interview in the part where he is pressing me about what course the Union for Radical Political Economy should take. I did not have any good answers.  I still don’t.

After 5 years, The Confiscation of American Prosperity is in Paperback

The young editor is enthusiastic about the sales after such a short period of availability.

Here is an Amazon ad, but it may be available locally.

Larry Bensky on online education

Shortly after reading John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe’s “Higher Education’s Online Revolution” (op-ed, May 31), I received two emails. One, from my department chair, informed me that due to the popularity of my upcoming online summer school class, I was being offered the “opportunity” to turn it into a “megaclass” with an enrollment cap lifted from 60 to 90 students. My compensation would increase by $1,200 (i.e., $40 per student) to a total of $5,712. (Were I teaching such “megaclasses” online full time, after 21 years as a teacher, I would be earning $68,544 a year.)

The other email was from a former student requesting a letter of recommendation—one of the many uncompensated, time-consuming tasks that teachers have, and mostly fulfill, willingly. He had come to see me the past week so that I could refresh my four-year-old memory of him and his excellent work in the classroom, which included an exemplary final exam essay that I had critiqued and returned to him.

When Messrs. Chubb and Moe write that their “revolution” includes a concept of “face-to-face interactions” within a “community of scholars,” they ignore the reality of what’s going on. There is no way I will have much, if any, “face to face” interaction with 90 online students. And there is no way, period, they will have “face to face” interaction with each other. There is also no way I would have the time to read and critique 90 weekly essays, a midterm and a final paper, much less discuss them “face-to-face.”

What’s really going on is the outsourcing of the educatonal experience to for-profit corporations that provide testing and technical tools—sometimes excellent, sometimes badly flawed—to those involved in education.

What’s being lost is the human dimension, a key to elucidation, inquiry, informed thought and education since, well, Jesus and Socrates, to name only two.

Larry Bensky

California State University, East Bay

Hayward, Calif.

Is Lack of Worker Skills Responsible for High Unemployment?

David Wessel had an interesting article about the effect of one area of corporate cutbacks — human relations.  HR departments adjust by relying on electronic services to evaluate applications.  The process is so rigid that virtually no applications are suitable.

One company drew 25,000 applicants for a standard engineering position only to have the HR department say not one was qualified.

One interesting implication is that the corporate types who complain about having trouble finding workers may not all be lying.  Some may have been shooting themselves in the foot.  Maybe it is not so much a lack of skills as corporate short-sightedness.

Here is the article: Continue reading