Links: SYRIZA, SOTU, etc.

syriza (2)

(1) Greek elections:  We just posted an article by Mike-Frank Epitropoulos on tomorrow’s elections in Greece, and what a SYRIZA election would mean: A Second Demonstration Project for Greece. The title alludes to the article Mike wrote for us back in May 2010, Greece as a Demonstration Project. Back then, the architects of austerity were using Greece as a demonstration project to see how a country’s population reacted to vicious austerity. Today, those same elites are worried about what the election of an anti-austerity, sometimes anti-capitalist party in Europe would demonstrate for people elsewhere in Europe and around the world. Also: check out the interview on RT with left economist Yanis Varoufakis, who will become Greece’s finance minister if SYRIZA wins. A highlight: in Pt. 2 Varoufakis speaks of the “fiscal waterboarding of Greece” (around 20:18 in the video).

(2) State of the Union:  I was so busy finalizing the Jan/Feb issue of D&S (check it out! and read the editorial note here) that I didn’t get a chance to post some links in advance of SOTU and after it. What I meant to post:

  • The Sunlight Foundation created the hilarious State of the Union Machine, which allows you to adjust inputs of presidential blather and rhetoric, from Washington and Lincoln to Bush père and fils to Clinton and Obama, to create your own SOTU (of sorts–it doesn’t really produce grammatically correct sentences, but you can’t have everything!). Sample word-salad generated: “Now do your part. Tonight I ask Congress to move quickly and decisively in confirming Judge Anthony Kennedy to the Moon.”
  • The SOTU machine reminded me of the Oliver Sacks essay, The President’s Speech, from his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, about the reaction of patients in the aphasia ward to a speech by “the old Charmer, the Actor, with his practised rhetoric, his histrionisms, his emotional appeal” (clearly Ronald Reagan, though he is not named explicitly–and how great a word is “histrionisms”?).  The patients, some of whom could apprehend non-verbal cues but not the literal meanings of words, others of whom can only apprehend the literal meanings, were either convulsed in laughter in response to Reagan’s antics or darkly disturbed.
  • More seriously: hat-tip to TM for pointing me to Lambert Strether’s post-SOTU commentary in his Water Cooler from Tuesday.
  • Via the Real News Network, an interview with Kshama Sawant, socialist Seattle city councilor, about SOTU, The Socialist Response to the State of the Union.
  • Sawant is a nice antidote to the email alert I got from the progressive outfit Media Matters for America, about their piece Right-Wing Media Decry Obama’s Economic Policy Proposals As Santa Claus-Style Giveaways And Class Warfare.  I’m sure they did, but what about a critique from the left of Obama’s class warfare on behalf of the wealthy?  As I have pointed out by email to Casey Skeens, their “communications and outreach associate” who sends out their email alerts, Media Matters for America bills itself as a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” but they seem to only criticize Republican conservatives, never Democratic conservatives. (Casey has never responded–so much for communications and outreach.)

(3) Sue Holmberg on the Van Hollen Plan:  Over at New Deal 2.0 of the Roosevelt Institute, this piece: The Van Hollen Plan Takes on Soaring CEO Pay: A Debate We Need to Have.

(4) What’s Wrong with Mainstream Economics:  Two pieces discussing what’s wrong with mainstream economics, and whether there is anything wrong.

First, from Noah Smith at Bloomberg View, Economic Stars Swing Left, which tries to respond to the activism at the recent economic meetings (ASSA protests) that we reported on (here), claiming that the protesters are off base, because the most publicly visible economists (Krugman, Stiglitz, Piketty, etc.) are leftists.

… if the protesters bothered to look around, they would see that their wish has been coming true for decades. Over the past quarter-century, economics has been shifting from singing the praises of free markets. Instead, it has moved toward a greater focus on inequality, human welfare and the ways that markets break down.

If you can get beyond the condescension, you may find it funny that Smith cites right-wing economist and pundit Tyler Cowen to back up the claim that Paul Krugman is today’s Milton Friedman.

One of the leaders of the protest, Keith Harrington (whom I quoted in my post about the protests) had a great response:

Utter nonsense Noah. This isn’t about economics swinging right or left. It’s about economics opening itself up to pluralism. Everyone you mentioned in this article is a neoclassical economist. Neoclassical economists like Krugman or Piketty may sit to the left of other mainstream economists like Mankiw, Summers or Reinhart, but that does not mean that the profession is becoming less rigid in terms of the schools of thought and methodology that are considered legitimate. Neoclassicism and its fundamentally flawed assumptions still rule the day.

And in terms of the incompatibility between our protest of the narrow mathematical/ objectivist/pseudo-scientific formalism of neoclassical economics and our protest of Carmen Reinhart’s reckless, ideologically-driven arrogance — there really is none. In both cases the common denominator is a hubristic belief in the fundamental inviolability of the mainstream worldview.

Had you bothered to actually reach out to us and attempt to obtain an accurate understanding of our message, you would have realized that we’re not taking a doctrinaire leftist perspective but protesting the extreme narrowness and provincialism of mainstream economics.

Meanwhile, there was a more serious and bigger-league (than Noah Smith) debate on the same kind of topic in the pages of the New York Review of Books, when Arnold Packer and Jeff Madrick responded to Alan Blinder’s somewhat negative review of Madrick’s great book Seven Bad Ideas, and Blinder responds in an exchange called “What’s the Matter with Economics?” An Exchange. According to Packer, “Blinder concludes that except for some right-wingers outside the ‘mainstream’ and politicians’ refusal to accept economists’ recommendations, little is the matter and Seven Bad Ideas constitutes ‘serial exaggeration.'” The debate is again about whether mainstream economists are mostly right-wing, but it ‘s also about how much policy influence economists have. Blinder, whom both Packer and Madrick praise as one of the best of the mainstream economists, seems to say that mainstream economists don’t have enough (or governments wouldn’t have pursued austerity policies), whereas Madrick and Packer (and Harrington and the economists who write for D&S) say mainstream economists have too much influence (or governments wouldn’t have pursued austerity policies). If you believe Carmen Reinhart, who after the protests claimed that she herself is “heterodox” (and Noah Smith supported that claim), then you’d have to disagree with Blinder, since if that whole Reinhart/Rogoff kerfuffle (see here)  showed anything, it was that economists like Reinhart and Rogoff (a) are mainstream and (b) have political influence to support austerity.

(4) Judith Butler on Black Lives Matter:  I want to recommend a great interview with philosopher Judith Butler at the New York Times‘s philosophy blog, The Stone: What’s Wrong With ‘All Lives Matter’? I, along with about 10% of the online commentators, thought that Butler’s analysis was really great. If you have a couple of hours to waste and your blood pressure is too low, read the rest of the comments, which range from outrage about her failing to talk about Mike Brown’s alleged crimes and character, to failing to talk about “black-on-black crime,” to scorn at the obscurity of theory. (Seriously, this interview is very clear as philosophy goes, and if you don’t like theory, why are you reading a philosophy blog? It’d be like reading a math blog and complaining about the formulae.)  Anyhow, I recommend the interview, but not the comments.

(5) Sasha Breger Bush, Gambling on Hunger and Climate Change:  Sasha Breger Bush, who will be contributing to our March/April special issue on food and farms, has a piece in the Transnational Institute’s State of Power 2015, just released to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos. Her piece is called Gambling on Hunger and Climate Change.

That’s it for now.

–Chris Sturr


Wednesday Links


Here are some items I’ve been meaning to post:

(1) ASSA Protests:  My last post mentioned the planned protests at the ASSA;  there was a bit of a buzz about the protests at the conference, and there was pretty impressive coverage in the Washington Post:  The protesters who are trying to upend the ‘fantasy world’ of economics, with the subtitle: At a gathering of America’s top economists, a small group of students is battling for the soul of economics.  The protesters, mostly grad students in economics, did projections like the one in the image above, and did aim to “disrupt” some of the sessions, including some involving Greg Mankiw, Larry Summers, and Carmen Reinhart. (It’s pretty hilarious to read Reinhart claiming that her session was heterodox in the Post article.) Mankiw’s blog had an odd post titled “An Odd Question,” in which he spoke of hecklers, one of whom apparently asked a question about Mankiw being funded by the Koch brothers. But one of the organizers of the protests, Keith Harrington, said that the hecklers weren’t from the protesters. Mankiw’s blog doesn’t take comments, so Keith emailed him this:

Thank you for sharing the Washington Post article about our initiative on your blog. Since there is no place to leave comments on any of your posts, I just wanted to send this quick note pointing out that the heckler that you mentioned was not a part of our group. We made a point to only challenge you and your colleagues on the substance of your work and viewpoints, and to avoid any purely provocative, conspiratorial commentary such as the Koch Brothers remark.
Keith Harrington

Mankiw’s response:

Thank you for your note.


Polite, but not so self-reflective.  Reminds me of the response I got when I emailed James Poterba about a weird remark he made at an American Academy of Arts & Sciences event in 2010 (recounted here).

(2) Let Us Now Praise Corporate Personsby Kent Greenfield in the Washington Monthly. ARthur MacEwan raised some of the same issues on corporate personhood in an “Ask Dr. Dollar” column a couple of years ago: How Important Is Citizens United?.

(3) Political Cartooning Is Almost Worth Dying For, by the wonderful Ted Rall in the LA TImes, about the horrific Charlie Hebdo attack.  (Hats off to all the Twitter folks who have been pushing mainstream outlets to cover the #NAACBombing.)

(4) Piketty Responds to Criticisms from the Left, an interview by Potemkin Review.

(5) Several Items on #BlackLivesMatter and the NYPD that I’d meant to mention here but hadn’t had time: Andy Cush at Gawker, The NYPD Is an Embarrassment to the City of New York; Ari Paul at Jacobin, Smash the Lynch Mob;  Corey Robin at his blog, A Weimar-y Vibe (about the NYPD and PBA/Patrick Lynch after the shooting of two NYPD officers); Max Blumenthal at Alternet (nice redesign!), Emails and Racist Chats Show How Cops and GOP Are Teaming Up to Undermine de Blasio; and flawed, but worth reading, Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone, The NYPD’s Work Stoppage Is Surreal (<–this one from Taibbi was itself kind of surreal, for his saying he “understood” (i.e., sympathized with?) why the cops are mad at de Balsio, and that de Blasio’s reference to his son Dante was “clumsy”–which led to an unfortunate Twitter fight between Taibbi and Blumenthal). And two segments from Doug Henwood’s wonderful Behind the News have been great on the Ferguson/#BlackLivesMatter protests:  the interview with Alex Vitale (second half of the December 4 show), and the interview with Kevin Alexander Gray (first half of the October 30 show).

That’s it for now.