Sunday, August 21, 2016

Nicolas Colin — Brexit: Doom, or Europe’s Polanyi Moment?

Brad DeLong calls this a must-read. I agree.

It's mostly about the current historical period, which Nicholas Colin interprets and as a "Polanyi moment" (my phrase). It's insightful and contains a lot of useful links. It's historical and institutionalist, as well as forward looking. Colin also provides some insights about revising the political compass relevant to current events.

A bit longish, covering a lot of ground. But it is a very worthwhile read, at least down to the section of Brexit at the end, which may be more of interest to Brits.

TheFamily Papers #22
Brexit: Doom, or Europe’s Polanyi Moment?
Nicolas Colin
ht Brad DeLong


Ryan Harris said...

The link is missing but easily found on google search.

It's an interesting paper but I'm not sure the crystal ball is working. Who represents looking forward and past are a bit fuzzy.

As Europe and The West fall further behind, I think Bush and Obama and Clinton represent the worst part of what caused capitalism to fall behind with their corruption by oligarchs like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and George Soros who are responsible for cornering markets and forming monopolies to extract rent. They are the unfortunate past, grave mistakes.

The defining feature of our time is of course the end of the digital age, where circuits could finally be made no smaller and could only increase in power with the surface area of volume. But also the rise of state directed capitalism as the most productive and "fair" economic system as capitalism has failed to compete and keep up. It's everywhere. Last week Uber failed in China and sold out to the state backed firm. Lyft is throwing in the towel and selling itself for less money that was poured into the venture looking to government subsidized/directed Auto mfrs to buy them.

Meanwhile in the most ominous sign, Ivy Leaguers and Obama cabinet officials are flocking to San Fran to cash in on the last vestiges of what's left of old fashioned capitalism now that they've blown up Wall Street and their post crash Hedge Funds imploded as the Western firms and workers lost out to more productive state directed competitors. Now the Ivy League are on to Silicon Valley. Good luck with that future. When the Ivy Leaguers show up, that is the surest sign ever of the end of the digital age.

The bright future might be restoring democracy from oligarchs and using governance to tax the hell out of companies like Google or Berkshire that actively seek to form abusive rent-extracting monopolies. If democracy is restored and the more productive state directed capitalism is applied to the behemoth economies of the Europe and the US and the rest of the world, now that is a bright future. Maybe even democracy can be restored then using the new direct tools of communication to eliminate the Democratic and Republican demogagoues.

Tom Hickey said...

Link fixed.

Tom Hickey said...

It's an interesting paper but I'm not sure the crystal ball is working. Who represents looking forward and past are a bit fuzzy.

Agree. The author is looking through the lens he has articulated in a particular way based on his own cognitive-affective-volitional bias that is both individual and also influence to the social group to which he belongs.

Other ways of looking are possible and I would take a somewhat different POV that he does in some cases. But the lens is useful, and I think that he gets a lot of the historical matters essentially right.

I am particularly interested in the way he develops the concept of a "Polanyi moment" institutionally, similar to a "Minsky moment" as a transformation at a culmination point.

Ww are at a historical turning point that might be compared with a phase transition between states in physics. We are sort of in the plasma stage.

Bob said...

This article describes Obama as forward-looking. WTF??

Sorry to burst TheFamily's bubble, but the 'gig economy' is just an old-fashioned scam. They are correct for the need for new institutions, although I suspect their priorities differ from those who hold power, and from those who have none.

Bob said...

Off-topic: Is anyone familiar with the work of John Michael Greer?

Tom Hickey said...

Yes. Good read.

Ryan Harris said...

I like the title of one of his books, "The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered"

Tom Hickey said...

Here is his blog post on The Wealth of Nature.

Noble intent, but I am not sure he represents the classical labor theory of value correctly. There is no specific value in nature. Nature is "priceless." Value is a relationship between humans and objects, including other subjects. Economic arises from use by humans, which involves work, at minimum fetching and gathering. Economic value is not the kind of value or even the most significant form or value.

Marx, correctly, distinguished use value from exchange value (market value expressed as price). Use value precedes exchange value historically. Artisans valued their work as embodying themselves in it creatively. Contemporary psychological research bears this out. Individuals generally regard the exchange value (price) as too low and are generally induced to sell not based on equitable price but need for money or the barter good. People often do not sell their prize possessions but prefer to give them away. These "power objects," being invested with the owner's power either through creativity or long use, are gifted. This is extremely ancient and it persists today, as heirlooms and donated museum pieces, for example.

Manifold socio-economic problems arise from exchange value based on price in markets, where interpersonal relationships becomes either non-existent or irrelevant. Then individuals become alienated from their work as creative expression, and they are psychically disempowered thereby. Combined with the state of neurosis produced by socialization that Freud explored in Civilization and its Discontents, most civilized people are neurotic rather than natural, which makes for a neurotic society.

While I agree with the Druid approach to nature as sacred rather than profane, as it is treated, actually mistreated, in modern cultures, the classical economists had a point that Marx as anthropologist and sociologist developed. We know a lot more about this now and Marx was onto something, as were the ancient Druids and other traditional people, especially shamanistic ones.

Tom Hickey said...

Correction: Economic value is not the ONLY kind of value, or even the most significant form of value.

Magpie said...

DeLong, the former Clintonite, endorses Polanyi. Fair enough, but which Polanyi?

The Polanyi Colin writes about?

This Colin-Polanyi:

"But when the world undergoes a ‘Great Transformation’, it leads to tracing another dividing line, this time between the rare elite representatives that are looking forward (Bill Clinton and Al Gore in their time, Barack Obama) and the dominant majority among them that don’t realize the transition at work and keep on looking backward (Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders)."

Or the Polanyi Patrick Iber and Mike Konczal write about?

This other, Iber-Konczal-Polanyi:

"But Polanyi also helps explains some of the tensions within the Democratic Party. One of the divides within the Democratic primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton has been between a social-democratic[Sanders'] and a 'progressive' but market-friendly vision of addressing social problems[Clinton's]. Take, for example, health care. Sanders proposes a single-payer system in which the government pays and health care directly, and he frames it explicitly in the language of rights: 'healthcare is a human right and should be guaranteed to all Americans regardless of wealth or income.'

"Clinton, meanwhile, describes affordable health care as a right. Clinton also wants higher education to remain a market commodity, because she says that if the government paid, it would needlessly be giving a free ride to the children of the wealthy and the upper-middle class. Clinton’s reasoning appeals to ideas of market efficiency, while Sanders, in stating that “Education should be a right, not a privilege,” appeals to ideas of community beyond markets."


Instead of advancing names at random and pretending he knows what he's talking about, DeLong should read Julia Baird ("Why you should carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man"):

"A friend of mine called me from New York recently, for example, and said she was worried about re-entering the work force after having children and doing TV appearances again, about losing her confidence and making mistakes.

"She has a PhD from Oxford, and a professorship at an American university. All I had to do was remind her of how happily her male peers accept invitations to speak everywhere, anywhere, to speak on anything at any time — and when I started mentioning some by name, I could almost hear her spine stiffen.
External Link: Sarah Hagi

"When I told her to carry herself with the confidence of a mediocre white man, she laughed — and has reminded me of it often since."

Magpie said...

I'm reminded of this story (legend?) about Caligula, who allegedly made his horse Incitatus consul. Whether it was as a satire to Roman nobles (as some modern historians claim) or a symptom of madness (as Caligula's contemporaries wrote), I don't know.

What I suspect is that Caligula's horse could do a good job as economics professor.


DeLong is duping the rubes. He's bluffing. He's selling his old wares, because they are the only wares he can sell: what you people call "neoliberalism".

The sad thing is, nobody calls his bluff.

Matt Franko said...

Tom why wouldn't you look at 1971 going off gold as the "Polyani" thing and not have to come up with all of this other goboldy-gook...

Don't underestimate the incompetence of Obama after 8 years bringing it down to a level where it has no other way to go but up and misinterpret a soon return of minimal material systems competency as a present "culmination point"....

If they soon get the rate back up to 5% or so it will be right back to "normal"....

Ryan Harris said...

I don't know enough about orthodox conservation economics to appreciate the finer points of a heterodox view point like the Druids. I observe the failure to protect Madagascar, where unique valuable rare flora and fauna, worth thousands on the black market are being destroyed to produce crops worth a few dollars. Conversely few rhinos remain of many species and each have horns worth hundreds of thousands of dollars on their heads and everyone knows with predictable results. Lastly in places like Alaska, the flora and fauna are neither rare nor valuable but are harvested because it is cheaper than getting sustainable industrially farmed versions to remote villages. Each have unique facets of the economic problems that exist in most of our systems and need solved. The global institutions in place have failed to slow the decline in those "resources" using orthodox ideas and methods, so it is probably something worth spending time to learn about.

Ignacio said...

this time between the rare elite representatives that are looking forward (Bill Clinton and Al Gore in their time, Barack Obama) and the dominant majority among them that don’t realize the transition at work and keep on looking backward (Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders).

What is this guy smoking...

Ignacio said...

If democracy is restored and the more productive state directed capitalism is applied to the behemoth economies of the Europe and the US and the rest of the world, now that is a bright future.

Check how the trade deals are doing... is the last attempt by the international oligarchy to supplant popular sovereignty by an international aristocracy of sorts.

If they finally fail and we see a rewind of globalizan as e know it (free rider capitalism) then it will be a good sign. If we don't then it will be a bad sign of more shit to come.

I think right now we are still in an impasse were delusional elites (both at the economic and political level) are trying to press forward making things worse in return. Until circumstances break down either way we won't have resolution, but a HRC presidency is probably the last nail in the coffin needed for severe backlash next years by the population.

Isembard said...

As a Scot living in the UK, I can at least call myself British, even though I don't feel that way. I found the authors cogitations on Brexit largely of a WTF? nature.

I flicked through the rest of the article as well, but unfortunately got tired as my brain is very small, I couldn't take in all the references and points covered and construct a conclusion. It appears to be 'We must use computers more, as they will save us from economic disaster'. Silly me, I thought it was the elites' pursuance of Sound Finance instead of the obvious solution of Functional Finance that keeps us all in chains.

For me, this is one of these articles where, after a few paragraphs, I start thinking "Is this guy just showing off how clever he is by quoting a lot of stuff? - what's his point, man?". Too many notes, Mozart!

"Another advantage derives from the strength (and the distinguishing feature) of the British: their sincere liberalism. " You mean neo-liberalism, right? Nein danke!

"By turning their backs on liberalism and uniting under common corporatist values, Great Britain would re-live the 1970" - Described as a bad thing. I lived through the 70's - I could pay a mortgage on a single salary, I had a grant from the government to go to university (no fees, natch) and when I graduated there were plenty of full-time jobs with good pemnsion schemes. To quote Ignacio "What is this guy smoking?..."

Bob said...

(The disastrous mistreatment of the environment common under Marxist regimes in the 20th century was not accidental, but a natural outgrowth of Marxist theory.)

I would nominate humanism as being responsible for this attitude. Marxists do tend to be humanists, but not all are of the extremist kind.

I recently stumbled across JMG and find his writing refreshing.

Tom Hickey said...

Tom why wouldn't you look at 1971 going off gold as the "Polyani" thing and not have to come up with all of this other goboldy-gook...

Because we are in the midst of a shift in the nature of the "material forces of production" that underlie the social relations of production."

There are essentially three periods in economic history, 1) the age of hunting and gathering tribes, the 3) agricultural age that led to urbanization and eventually states, and 3) the industrial age that led to the hyper-urbanization and hyper-centralization. It looks like we are on the cusp of the next major period, 4) the digital age, which can potentially lead to greater decentralization and dispersion, including space exploration.

Tom Hickey said...

I don't know enough about orthodox conservation economics to appreciate the finer points of a heterodox view point like the Druids.

It's really modernism v. traditionalism and the profane world view v. the sacred world view rather than orthodox v. heterodox. These are radically different value systems based on ideology, Not just the Celtic Druids either, of course. All traditional peoples have held the earth to be sacred and they view nature literally in berm of Mother Nature and Father Sky (Heaven). In the ancient Chinese view that is still prevalent, humans stand between earth and heaven as the link between them. Fro this POV, fouling your own nest and that of your ancestors and offspring is evidence of insanity.

This POV is contemporary Christianity is called "creation spirituality." Some of the chief influences on it were women, like Hildegard von Bingen. See Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality and The Cosmic Christ> as well as the works of Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for a contemporary view based on biology. He was a biologist.

Matt Franko said...

I look at 1971 as the epochal year....

Tptb are being slow to understanding... Very slow.... Also, we are not doing a very good job educating...

Ignacio said...

Tom I disagree with your taxonomy of historical periods. There is a trend to see trends, to form cohesive world views (zeitgeists) where there may be none.

Take for example "neo"-liberalism. There is nothing neo about it, rather what was exceptional was the post-WWII period, that was the oddity, Not this "neo" thing, is the continuation of centuries old ideology. In fact you can trace it back to classic Greece, there were already oligarchies, oligarchs and "free market" zealots back then.

Same for urbanisation, there is nothing unique about the current trend of hyper-urbanisation. Ok, yes there was a big displacement of the labour force from agriculture to industry, and late ron, to services, but this does not change anything about the core relationships within societies.

All what we are living are variations of past themes, not much REALLY new about it. The only unique property about our current times (talking about last two centuries) is the industrial revolution and the exploitation of carbon energy stocks beyond what was possible before. The impact was an exponential growth in the population. But did it change anything substantially?

The material forces may have changed, but the social relations really haven't, and have been imitating past forms of organisation. Right now we see a return to self-perpetuating aristocracies as the veil of social mobility disappears and where any appearance of "free market" is abandoned in favour of state-sanctioned monopolies and oligopolies.

Where Marxists are wrong (IMO) is that there is no such zeitgeist, and societies and cultures are cyclical in nature. Feudalism, monarchy, capitalism, socialism, all exists or have existed and cycle depending on circumstances.

Technology has no teleology, in the end there are owners or no owners. Internet? Easily controlled, in fact the technology may be invented to make it easier to control even. Decentralisation? What we see each day is more and more centralisation, all helped by modern IT and dependencies on the grid.

Think about how much more control governments and corporations have over the average life nowadays than just 30 years ago. A minimal failure of all those networks would wreck havoc into most people lives, who in turn would turn to the government and ask for more control, not less.

Six said...

Agree completely. Sadly, the powers that DON'T be are very slow to understanding, too.

Tom Hickey said...

The terms "Zeitgeist" is Hegelian rather than Marxist, although Hegel himself never used the term "Zeitgeist." Marx rejected the Zeitgeist concept and the great man — Hegel's world-historical figure theory of history that exemplified the "spirit of the time" understandable as the dominant rational expression of the organizing idea.

Conversely, Marx held that the foundation of a period was to be found in the forces of production rather than in ideas in consciousness.

The general conclusion at which I arrived and which, once reached, became the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.

The major historical periods — pre-agricultural, agricultural, industrial and now digital are based on the dominant means of production, which may not be the exclusive means. Although the pre-agricultural period is called the hunting-gathering stage, it includes animal husbandry. Some pre-agricultural groups were nomadic and migrated with the seasons with their herds or flocks. The agricultural age bought both economic surpluses and urbanization, This led to the displacement of agriculture as the dominant means of production as technology led to factories and hyper-urbanization. The digital is just beginning and could go various ways before settling into what will become characteristic. At least population dispersion and political decentralization is possible. No guarantees that transnational corporate totalitarianism won't prevail through.

jrbarch said...

For me, there is also the physical, emotional, and mental ‘age’ (locus of an evolving consciousness) – the transition now occurring to that constitutional aspect widely spoken of as the heart.

During these ages the ‘I’ has transformed, and evolved in its ability to control the physical emotional and mental nature as an integrated personality, possessed of desire and direction, although still uncertain as to its place in Nature, and at the centre of the human drama. The leading edge of this transitional front, is where ‘I’ as an individual meets ‘I’ as inclusive of ‘Others’ and hence the winds of change. What follows behind this front, is knowledge of the self.

jrbarch said...

If you have had children of your own and raised them, you will have seen these ‘ages’ at work. It is said that the whole of evolution is depicted in the growth of the embryo in the womb.