Friday, June 28, 2013

Obama's Climate Action Plan

I want to cut Obama a little slack here.  If you are being told that you can talk about reducing greenhouse gasses but you cannot meaningfully address the problem because you will get no resources (or very few) and you must protect the interests of the legacy technologies, the result is inevitably the lame shit you proposed on the 25th.  These constraints explain why 25 years, scores of conferences, and thousands of papers later, we are in much worse shape than in 1988.

This is obviously not going to save us.  Not. Even. Close. Unfortunately, the establishment environmental organizations and the vast majority of the intellectuals addressing the climate problem accept the same constraints on their thinking.  It is why you get "50 Easy Ways to Save the Planet" thinking and Nobel Laureates in Physics suggesting weatherization schemes.  What is so insane about all this is that this country would never have been built in the first place if our grandfathers had exhibited such cramped and narrow thinking.

Friday, June 21, 2013

And now Brazil

Turns out that economics triggered Brazil's social unrest.  But how can that be—isn't Brazil the oft-touted model of an successful emerging economy?  Well that maybe true but even a successful economy is not immune from the global economic reality.  And the reality these days is that vast swaths of the world's economies are inhabited by people and governments who don't have money to spend.  And so Brazil's exports have crashed.  In the meantime, a successful economy has raised the incomes of many people.  So naturally, the petty real estate speculators are raising rent and property prices.  It's what they do after all.  So while their petty Predators raise prices whenever possible in an effort to mop up the country's middle-class income gains, the effect is to raise prices for everyone—even those who have never seen a bit of that income prosperity.

In the meantime, the Leisure Class mania for sport got Brazil into hosting the World Cup AND the Olympics.  The irony here is that football / soccer is popular in the poor areas of the world precisely because it is a sport that can be played without much expensive equipment.  Brazilians are crazy for sport because it designates social champions from the nation's slums.  And yet here they are, building hopelessly overpriced stadiums so that guys who travel by private jet will feel comfortable watching others play a game.  I have never been to Brazil but I can guess there are plenty of better places to spend $14 Billion for upgraded infrastructure.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Drinking from a firehose

Crackpot realism.  When I first read C. Wright Mills in 1969, his name for the madness that had allowed a country teetering on the edge of true greatness, to be swept into the cesspool that was USA's war against the Vietnamese people, was so powerful, it was beyond my comprehension.  Little did I know that if I understood crackpot realism, there was really little else about sociology that I would have to understand.  What I did know was that whatever he called what he did, I wanted to be like Mills.

What makes crackpot realism relevant to economics is that the phenomenon describes much of what goes on in the lofty reaches of the economics profession.  I mean, nothing describes the austerians such as Rogoff and Reinhart better.  This is the reason the Institutionalists claimed Mills as one of their own.  Their claim was not at all unreasonable—at one time, Mills studied under the legendary Clarence Ayres at the University of Texas (Austin).  Ayres will probably best be remembered as the teacher who best explained Veblen.

So I took much joy in discovering a writer who used Mills' great idea to discuss the recent revelations about the NSA.  Talk about crackpot realism.  American "intelligence" somehow believes that an infinity of information will lead to a greater understanding of the threats that menace us.  And because it is now possible to record all the metadata produced by the world of digital communications, that's what they set out to do.

Remember here, the bombing of the Boston Marathon was the work of two Chechen brothers the Russian secret service had specifically warned the USA about.  But because crackpot realism reigned supreme in the salons of the most serious crackpots, and they believed that the Chechens were the good guys and so much more reliable than Russian intelligence, they dismissed a clear warning—one that was seriously better than some warning generated by an algorithm combing though the metadata of the globe's electronic communications will ever be.

So yes, the NSA can and probably will collect their Zetabytes of data.  The question is, what can they possibly do with this towering mountain of bytes without a clear understanding of what they are looking for?  In the world of  crackpot realism, such an understanding is so far outside of the conventional wisdom, it is taken as a threat to the social order.  So while the NSA builds its storage facilities in a jobs program for the computer industry, the crackpots will ensure that they most they can ever "accomplish" is further damage to the idea of free citizens and their right to be left alone.

The idea that NSA can or will stop any serious attempts at low-cost violence by the millions of economic left-behinds is simply ludicrous.  Trying to distill anything useful from the torrent of data generated by billions of people living their lives is already as insane as trying to drink from a firehose.  But it is utterly impossible if the folks who are looking for that important information must first commit themselves to the security world's crackpot realism as a condition for their employment.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

School's out for summer

It's pretty clear I need to scale back my efforts here at real economics. I am weary and NEED something like a sabbatical.  Grinding out a reasonably coherent post every day is a lot of work.  But lately, I have also been playing nursing assistant to a partner who broke her right arm near her shoulder.  So now the work load in my life is becoming a threat to my health—and I have four stents in my heart already.  If someone else was making me work this hard, I would be organizing a revolution.

Don't worry.  I am not going anywhere.  If there is an interesting story, I will be sure to cover it.  But I am not going to try to get a post up every day.  I have proved I am a good Protestant—now I am going to try to be more reasonable.

I also have Producer Class projects that need doing.  This house we moved into last summer is cute, has beautiful trees, and a large expansive lawn that was obviously well-tended by the previous owner.  Unfortunately, it has the weather protecting qualities of a tent.  It a long way from hopeless, but it is also a long way from energy efficiency.  Besides, construction projects like this are good for the thought processes.  I am hoping designing and executing some weatherization strategies will recharge the old brain.

But the big change is that I want to write about what the people who can build better societies need to do politically to get us out of the current cesspool of ignorance and corruption that seems to prevent us from accomplishing those tasks necessary for survival.  I don't intend to re-invent the wheel so this effort will borrow heavily from the strategies employed by the Non-Partisan League in the second half of the 1910s.  Think NPL manifesto meets TED presentation.  I have a pretty good start on this project but now I need the time and energy to finish it.  I'll probably post some progress reports as they become relevant.

Wish me luck.  And if you have any suggestions for my NPL / Producer Class "manifesto," please send me an email or add a comment to this post.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Saturday toons 8 JUN 13

Solar panel trade war

Well, it happened.  The EU slapped some tariffs on Chinese PV cells.  The reason is obvious—the Chinese ARE dumping.

As someone who believes in managed trade, I think this decision is probably a good thing.  First of all, why the hell are the Chinese manufacturing solar cells for Europe when there are so MANY needs for them in China? (this is so obviously an economic distortion of neoliberalism!)  And right behind is the question—what is accomplished in terms of carbon reduction when you ship panels all over?  Finally, it is probably a good thing when panels are built for local conditions.

Since PV cells were invented, the goal has been to increase the rate of conversion from sunlight to electricity.  But as these things mature we will see PV panels optimized for other things such as ease of maintenance, enhanced durability, and targeted operating temperature (my brother is discovering that his panels work much better in April than July because of lower ambient temperatures in April.)  Because PV panels represents a dispersed energy system, their market will more imitate the markets for construction materials.  (As someone who had been watching this phenomenon over most of a lifetime, I have noticed that building methods don't travel all that well.  Different building methods—different building supplies.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Japan's solar market grows up

Back in 1989 when I wrote Elegant Technology, I was quite certain that Japan would become a leader in green technologies—mostly because they COULD become a leader.  It has taken awhile, but it looks like this prediction will come true.  Go Japan!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

53°C / 127°F—hot enough for you?

For a Nordic man from Minnesota, even the thought of 127°F is enough to make me cringe—I start wilting about 85°F.  In Pakistan, they are seeing these sorts of temps in major cities.  One wonders how many climate change deniers there are in Lahore these days.

Will Portugal leave the Euro?

While the Portuguese government is probably horrified that someone is out getting famous trashing their Euro membership, the subject is probably gaining traction by the day.  The reason is simple—the Euro is destroying their economy.  Portugal really cannot afford to stay.

But man, this must piss off the Portuguese elites.  Membership in the Euro means much more than some petty economic advantage that they may be a part of.  No, this is about being in a a very nice club—the kind of club folks from small nations rarely get to join.  This dynamic is at work in other little countries—some of whom are still trying to join the Euro even with all its problems.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

They owe us

In all the history of truly vile ideas, the idea that the banksters—who have destroyed much of the real economy, corrupted our governments, turned serious subjects like economics into a sick joke, reduced our communication systems below well-written soap operas, attacked honest science, and all those other corruptions of the human potential in the name of naked greed—are not only NOT going to jail or facing execution, they are to be rewarded in perpetuity every scrap of wealth a society can generate.  Presumably for their good work in managing an economy that can no longer even maintain its systems.

Takes some serious gullibility for that reality to sound like a good idea.

When I was a kid, I was shown many examples of extreme human credulity.  Got to believe a lot of bullshit to be religious—especially if you are a fundamentalist who thinks the Bible is true down to "the last jot and tittle."  My absolute favorite example came at a Bible camp.  One featured speaker was an old China hand.  With their successful revolution in 1949, the Chinese made it a priority to get rid of western missionaries.  The missionaries, who thought themselves the good guys, were NOT happy to be expelled.  Post 1949, China policy in USA would be largely created by pissed-off missionaries and their representatives who were give a permanent platform at Time Magazine by Henry Luce (who was born in China to Presbyterian missionaries.)  Our Bible camp speaker was a long way from being Luce, but he had carved out a minor traveling salvation show that warned folks of the nature of the evil we faced in Chinese Communism.  Not content to explain how the Communists had turned their good Chinese friends against them, Bible-camp guy had to make some extra claims about the evil forces he encountered in China.  It seems that he had a sideline in casting out demons which he recounted in Exorcist-like detail.  The whole idea of his message was that if the power of God could cast out the devil himself, why golly-gee we should be able to cast out those godless communists in China.

How many people actually believed his rap, I have no idea, but there were enough of them to keep his "ministry" afloat.  The last time I heard him, he had diversified and was peddling the Hoover / FBI smears against Martin Luther King.  As this was a pet project of the John Birch Society, Bible-camp guy probably had open ties to them.  After all, John Birch himself was a Protestant missionary in China who was shot by the Communists in 1945.  They accused him of being a USA intelligence agent.  (He was.  Just remember, missionaries may have had some whacky views of China, but they were the only folks who knew anything at all about the middle kingdom.  Most missionaries were debriefed about their knowledge of China by USA intelligence coming and going.  Most of them cooperated enthusiastically.)

I am reminded of this because the bug-eyed craziness of a man who believes we should resort as a nation to whatever means (including a nuclear standoff and the Vietnam War) it required so he could go back to performing exorcisms on poor Chinese peasants, is really quite similar to whatever bullshit it requires to make us believe that after all they have cost us, we still owe the banksters more of our wealth.

So here's to the They Owe Us movement.  Make this idea stick and you will have accomplished much.

Losing our dirt

Anyone who has tried to get an apathetic friend concerned about Peak Oil or Climate Change has but a TINY appreciation for the problems of getting public policy to address the loss of topsoil.  Because even though the loss of arable land is easily as serious a problem as the destruction of the oceans, the dwindling supplies of fresh water, or the end of the age of petroleum, it rarely gets mentioned in the same breath because, after all, we are talking about dirt—you know, the stuff that made your mother scream at you when you got some on your clothes or hands.

Of course, because farmers (peasants) are the folks who must work with dirt and are the quintessential examples of Producers, this is a subject that also suffers from class animus.  For many, many Predators, farming is just another impediment to their favorite activity—real estate speculation.  So the folks in these articles are not only doing difficult work, they are doing work that gains them Leisure Class scorn.  This in no way alters the fact that care for the planet's dirt is literally a matter of life and death.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Euro economic crises rolls on

I have been spending a lot of time lately wondering why the USA left is so freaking hopeless when it comes to economic and environmental matters.  It is not a topic that makes me happy.  To have a President from the Democratic Party who will not defend Social Security is really quite devastating.  Now it can be argued that the Democrats were never all THAT left, but compared to the unabashedly bourgeois Republicans, they were sort of left.  And even though they are but a handful, there are even some Democrats who are reminders that theirs was once the party of FDR, Francis Perkins, and Ken Galbraith (etc.)

But compared to the collapse of the European Left, ours has held up amazingly well.  So I wonder what killed the Euro left.  After all, they were are lot "lefter" than we would ever be, were theoretically much better grounded, and more importantly, held power in important governments for significant periods of time.  But, watching someone like Gerhard Schroeder sell out German workers was enough to make folks forget that Hitler once considered the Social Democrats so dangerous, he had many of them murdered and many more sent to concentration camps.  Seeing an überwienie like Hollande in action, it's hard to remember that the Socialists once preached armed struggle.

Even worse, it seems that former leftists become the most enthusiastic neoliberals.  The intellectual journey from Marx and Gramsci to neoliberalism seems especially short.  I have theories for why this is so, but they are not so important as the fact that it IS so.  Then there is the problem that Marxism was such a notorious failure so flogging that horse back to life looks especially impossible.  Once you have lost your economic playbook, the only thing a Marxist has to offer is an annoying authoritarianism. The obvious solution would be to turn to other progressive strategies such as was invented by the left Populists in North America.  After all, the USA Pops were confronting corrupt banksters so the application is ideal.  But the Euro establishment has turned populism into a swear word and Euro scholarship doesn't even begin to understand the historical underpinnings of left Populism.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Debunking the economics "profession"

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” John Maynard Keynes

Of all the scams, none is so pernicious as the one that claims economics is a science.  The discipline has some scientific moments, to be sure, but the way it is practiced has MUCH more in common with theology.  The recent saga of Rogoff and Reinhart should serve as a permanent warning that even the most highly credentialed economists are at best, sloppy theologians, who have at most, only a vague and passing interest in the rigors of scientific research. (See the April 25 coverage of this story here at real economics.)

Of course, the scandal here is not that a couple of arrogant academics mailed in a study that should have embarrassed a freshman, the scandal is that anyone treated it seriously because it was obvious from the outset that this paper was nothing more than a hack job turned out to please some stupendously stupid rich client(s).  So now that the work of Rogoff and Reinhart has been discredited, the attack on them has turned into an attack on the folks who have been paying their bills.  Krugman even seems to believe this is the beginning of the end for the whole austerity movement R & R were such a part of.

We can only hope he is right.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Protests are back (Turkey)

Here in Minnesota, winter lasted for-freaking-ever so it seems like it just turned spring.  And as history teaches, spring is a good time for protests.  Because the global economy is still being mostly run by stupid sociopaths, the protests could happen almost anywhere—even in places where they are relatively rare.  Nothing tops economics as a reason to get people into the streets.  This time it's Turkey and the supposed reason is about a re-development of a popular park—the destruction of a public place for the gain of a handful of well-connected real estate speculators.  So the connection of this protest to economics is pretty direct.

Saturday toons 1 JUN 13