Who said that Easter has no significance in our cynical age, even to atheists like myself? Suffering, the sacrifice of the innocents, persecution of prophets of truth – it is all going on with a vengeance. On this note, Happy Easter to all. (The photo above was taken by Danae Stratou on the US-Mexican border in 2006, as part of her work CUT-7 dividing lines. Each of the smaller crosses, making up the larger one, has a name on it – of one that perished in the attempt to cross the border in search of employment).
Greece is about to issue 5 year bonds again. Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt and Athens are celebrating Greece’s recovery. For my part, I think (and tell the BBC World Service) that this is a sad day for Greece and it is a sad day for Europe. Why do I refuse to be impressed and join in the celebrations? It is because the Greek state and the Greek banks remain deeply insolvent. And, their return to the money markets is a harbinger of the next terrible phase of Greece’s crisis, rather than a cause for celebration. Continue reading
Thomas Piketty has a new book out: Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It is an ambitious volume that sets out to explain the sources of inequality and social tensions in the context of his own anatomy of… Das Kapital. As this book is receiving a great deal of attention, a proper review is in order. Thankfully, James K. Galbraith has provided such a review, published in Dissent – a Quarterly of Politics and Culture. Click here for Dissent’s website or read on…
- James Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations and Professor of Government, University of Texas – Austin
- Yanis Varoufakis, Visiting Professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas – Austin, and
- Jeffrey Sommers, Senior Fellow, Institute of World Affairs
- Moderator: Doug Savage, Institute of World Affairs
The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) kindly invited me to draft a possible Manifesto for the European Left, in view of the May 2014 European Parliament election. Here is the final document I produced entitled THINK BIG, THINK BOLD: Why the European Left must aim for a radical, Pan-European, Green New Deal.
The ‘haves’ of the world are always convinced that they deserve their wealth. That their gargantuan income reflects their ingenuity, ‘human capital’, the risks they (or their parents) took, their work ethic, their acumen, their application, their good luck even. The economists (especially members of the so-called Chicago School. e.g. Gary Becker) aid and abet the self-serving beliefs of the powerful by arguing that arbitrary discrimination in the distribution of wealth and social roles cannot survive for long the pressures of competition (i.e. that, sooner or later, people will be rewarded in proportion to their contribution to society). Most of the rest of us suspect that this is plainly false. That the distribution of power and wealth can be, and usually is, highly arbitrary and independent of ‘marginal productivity’, ‘risk taking’ or, indeed, any personal characteristic of those who rise to the top. In this post I present a body of experimental work that argues the latter point: Arbitrary distributions of roles and wealth are not only sustainable in competitive environments but, indeed, they are unavoidable until and unless there are political interventions to keep them in check.
Tony Benn’s passing saddened and concentrated my mind. His was the voice that resonated with (a much younger version of) me most powerfully immediately after I moved to England in 1978. I was attracted instantly to the combination of: his commitment to the progressive history and potential of British Parliamentarianism, his passionate anti-imperialist pacifism, his relentless socialist critique of capitalism, and his stupendous eloquence. But there was something beyond that: He stood opposite Mrs Margaret Thatcher as one of the few members of the opposition interested in, and capable of, conviction politics. In an age of increasing spin, Tony Benn was solid in his support of political causes independently of political expediency. He was a rock rather than a weathercock. Continue reading
Following my debate with Andreas Antonopoulos on ABC Late Night Live, graduate students of mine (at the University of Texas) were kind enough to piece together a related Q&A reflecting my views on BTC. Read on… Continue reading
In this lively debate, on ABC Radio National’s excellent Late Night Live (with Phillip Adams in the chair), we discuss what makes Bitcoin a fascinating technology, whether it is a genuine currency, its parallels with the Gold Standard and what I have called previously the dangerous fantasy of apolitical money.
Why an independent Scotland should get out of sterling, but Greece should not volunteer to exit the Eurozone
Scotland should state its intention to decouple from sterling, once independent, rather than petitioning for a continuation of its subservient role in an asymmetrical sterling union. Or so I argued in the Scottish Times in ‘Scotland Must Be Braver’ (28th November 2013). But if this is good advice for Scotland, why am I arguing that Greece should not sever its links with the even more odious monetary union known as the Eurozone? Unless the two cases differ, my argument lacks consistency. But they do differ. Fundamentally too. Continue reading
Let us accept (as I do) the principle that national minorities have the right to self-determination within lopsided multi-ethnic states; e.g. Croats and Kosovars seceding from Yugoslavia, Scots from the UK, Georgians from the Soviet Union etc. Continue reading
at the Progressive Economic Conference, Brussels 2nd March 2014
A debate involving James K. Galbraith, Yanis Varoufakis and Jeff Sommers (in the role of moderator) took place on 24th February at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in the context of the George Kennan Distinguished Lecture Series. An amateurish recording is available here. For ease of ‘navigation’, a list of topics (with their location on the recording’s timeline) is presented below.
- During the first few minutes, J. Galbraith talks about George Kennan (given that the occasion was The Distinguished George Kennan Lecture Series).
- Then for forty minutes Y. Varoufakis and J. Galbraith discuss austerity: its intellectual and historical roots, the political motivation driving it in the US and in Europe and the general state of play in the US and Europe (including an intervention from Jeff Sommers on the Latvian experiment with austerity).
- Starting at around 47′ we discuss minimum wages , presenting the microeconomic, macroeconomic and social importance of raising minimum wages to a level that they can sustain a decent life – plus a rejoinder to the false claim that higher minimum wages will depress employment.
- From 58’30” to the end, a discussion with the audience ensues (questions are not clearly audible – but our answers are!)
Technological fixes to time-honoured problems are all the rage these days. Bitcoin is meant to fix money, social media are seen as an antidote to Rupert Murdoch and assorted tyrants, networked robots are to help countries like Japan deal with demographic declines etc. Perhaps the largest claim is that the Internet has helped (or is about to help) democratise capitalism. Ten years ago that claim struck me as both fascinating and dubious. So, I sat down and wrote an article about it (circa 2004). Its gist: The Internet is a wonderful leveller. But democracy requires a great deal more than mere ‘levelling’. Primarily, it requires political institutions that enable the economically weak to have a decisive say on policy against the interests of the rich and powerful. Ten years later, I am re-visiting this question, under the shadow of a global crisis that made it even harder to convert an e’Demos into genuine e’Democracy. What follows is an updated version of the original paper. (Click here for a pdf version or just read on.) Continue reading
Moralizing and generalization have always been terrible foundations for public policy. Continue reading