Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Monday, February 29, 2016

WE SHALL SEE

Tomorrow, Super Tuesday, will be the first real test of the analysis I did two months ago of the Republican race for the Presidential nomination.  We shall see the relationship between the actual results and my projections.  It should be interesting.

A REPLY TO ALEX CAMPBELL

Alex Campbell says, " I have heard you mention a few times that if Trump wins the nomination, he will destroy the GOP. I was hoping that you could say more about what exactly you mean by this and why you think it."  Let me try to respond.

Both the Democratic and Republican Parties rely for electoral support on what is referred to as their "base," which is to say a sizeable group of voters who can be counted on, in good times and bad, to vote for the party.   Since only between 54% and 62% of eligible voters have actually gone to the polls in the past four cycles, it is obvious that "turning out your base" is a key to winning a presidential election.  A solid margin of victory in a presidential campaign is perhaps three to five percent of the total vote, so there is more to be gained by increasing the share of  your base that votes than in persuading so-called "independent" voters to switch from one party to the other.

For half a century now, those who run the Republican Party have been successful in getting a base of low and middle income voters to support policies that benefit the rich rather than themselves by appealing to racial prejudice, religious anxiety, resentment at class snobbery, and jingoist passions.  As Thomas Frank put it brilliantly in his 2004 book What's The Matter With Kansas?, the Republicans get the peasants to charge the castle with pitchforks, shouting as they charge "We are mad as hell, and demand that you cut taxes on the rich!"

The Republicans never deliver what they promise on social issues, but fears about same-sex marriage, abortion, and the "War on Christmas" keep the base riled up and in line.

This seems to be the year in which that con job finally fails.  Trump has hi-jacked the Party while making it clear that he cannot be counted on to support international capitalism and the financial classes [it is very significant that Trump is in construction, which is typically local, not international.] 

The merger of the interests of the rich and the anxieties of the lower middle class has never been natural or stable, and if Trump does in fact win the nomination, it is difficult to see how that merger will be reestablished after he loses the general election.  It is noteworthy that the super-rich individuals who have poured hundreds of millions into the Republican Primary Campaign have thus far had virtually no return on their investment.


Something like this is what I had in mind.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY

It is now clear that Donald Trump will win the Republican presidential nomination, and in the process destroy the Republican Party as we have known it these past sixty years.  The hysteria among party regulars and "leaders" has reached fever pitch, with Lindsey Graham announcing publicly that his party "has gone bats**t crazy."

I actually know how Trump could be destroyed, but on the off chance that a Republican reads this blog, I shan't tell.  Perhaps after he gets the nomination I will reveal the secret.

TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET

A bit more than half of my morning four mile walk follows a back road past a golf course, a waste water treatment facility, and a Ronald MacDonald Home.  The HU city bus from the Friday Center to the UNC Medical complex runs on that route, and since the walk is very boring, I amuse myself by waving to the buses as they pass [some of the drivers honk] and counting them going and coming.  On a normal day, I see six or seven, on a really good day, eight.  That is rarer than spotting a deer or a Blue Heron.  Today, mirabile dictu, the stars were aligned and I saw nine buses.  A banner day, one to be remembered during walks to come.  And there are those who say I lead a quiet  life!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

THEY KEEP COMING

Lecture Eight in my Ideological Critique series is now available on YouTube.  With this lecture, I move on from ethnography to literary criticism.  Two to go!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

THE ESTABLISHMENT

It is raining here in North Carolina, and I must wait until the sun comes out before recording my next lecture, so this may be a good time to talk a bit about the term "establishment," which has figured lately in some vigorous back and forth between Clinton and Sanders. 

"Establishment," as it is currently used, derives from the practice of officially or governmentally assigning to one church a privileged position in a society.  This is not to be confused with theocracy such as exists, in an odd form, in Iran today .  Marx's father, for example, converted to Christianity even though he came from a long line or rabbis, in order to be able to practice his profession in Prussia, where it was the law that only Christians could argue before the Bench.  The Anglican Church is the Established Church of England, in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church or any of the dissenting sects [Methodism, Presbyterianism, etc.]  The privileged status of the Anglican Church is a matter of explicit law, not of custom or attitude or social standing.  [There was always resistance to this practice of an established church, and then resistance to that resistance, giving rise to what was said, when I was a boy, to be the longest word in the English language:  antidisestablishmentarianism.]

By a natural extension of usage, the term came to be used to describe or identify powerful, well-placed individuals who, as a group, exercised influence over law, politics, the economy, and the society vastly disproportionate to their numbers.  This power and influence was to some extent, but only to some extent, a consequence of their wealth. 

In a very large urban society like the United States, the people exercising this undue influence tend to be gathered in certain urban centers where one finds a confluence of wealth, political power, access to and control of mass media, and centers of decision-making of important organizations.  There is a dramatic contrast between the effect that ordinary individuals exercise on the public life of the nation and the effect exercised by members of these interlocking circles of well-placed individuals.  Even in organizations devoted to the interests and needs of ordinary men and women, those who lead the organizations have more immediate daily contact with other influential figures than they do with their own employees or clients.  These influential individuals, taken all together, are The Establishment, even though there is no law assigning them primacy of place or privileged access to centers of power.

Senators and members of the House are part of The Establishment.  Corporate executives are part of The Establishment.  Prominent academics, such as Paul Krugman, are part of the Establishment.  And so, quite often, are the leaders of national organizations that advocate for the needs and interests of ordinary people.  So when Bernie Sanders described the leadership of Planned Parenthood as part of The Establishment, he was stating a simple fact, even though Planned Parenthood was under vicious attack by one of the two major political parties.  Hillary Clinton's dramatic outrage at Sanders' characterization of the leadership of Planned Parenthood was either simple hypocrisy or an expression of a remarkable level of unselfawareness.  [Note that the current President of Planned Parenthood, an organization to which I have donated a great deal of money, is Cecile Richards, the daughter of the former Governor of Texas.]

Bernie is what we on the extreme left used to call a class traitor.  He is a member of The Establishment who has turned against it. Hillary Clinton is so thoroughly enmeshed in The Establishment that I doubt she is capable of realizing the fact.  It is in that fact, and not the naive notion of a quid pro quo, that lies the real significance of her lucrative speechifying on Wall Street.



A GREAT IDEA

A faithful reader has just sent me an e-mail message with a great idea.  I am not sure how one does this, but could I, we, organize a petition or a social media effort to ask Bernie, should he not win the nomination [as I am sure he will not] to turn his campaign into a standing movement?  We could give people the opportunity to pledge a monthly ten dollar donation.

How would we do this?  Would it be a good idea?  Can I do it?  I do not do Twitter or SnapChat or even FaceBook or whatever the latest social media platform is, but it ought to be possible, yes?

Suggestions please.

LET ME ENTER THE ARGUMENT

I was about to write a response to Simon's impassioned critique of my anidmaversions against Trump when up popped replies by Tom and S. Wallerstein, along with Simon's rejoinder.  Let me add a few words to the thread [is that the right use of that term?]  I share Simon's dismay both at the Clinton clique and at the broader wing of the party to which they belong, but I am very much more fearful than he seems to be of the destructive and dangerous sentiments Trump has aroused and given voice to in contemporary politics.  I am old enough to recall Nazism in Germany and Fascism in Italy.  

I think it is too easy, albeit understandable, to dismiss my fears and doubts as expressions of upper class disdain of the unwashed lower orders.  To be sure, although I drink neither tea nor sherry, I am in all the ways that matter clearly a member of the privileged upper middle class educated elite in America.  I have only once, and then merely for a summer, held a regular eight hour a day job at which I was required to punch in at a time clock, and that, after all, was as a Copy Boy on the old Herald Tribune!

I do not believe that Trump is tapping into sentiments that could serve as the motivation for a genuine socialist working class movement, but I do think there is just a chance that Sanders is. Perhaps I should say, more forthrightly, that I do not want to be a part of a movement, working class or not, that cheers to the echo the proposal to round up eleven million men, women, and children and run them out of the country, nor do I want to be part of a movement that celebrates torture.  As for being unkind to TV journalists, be my guest!

What sort of president would Trump be?  I find that genuinely unanswerable.  He has no fixed beliefs about matters of public policy, so far as I can determine.  Indeed, it is entirely unclear to me whether, or why, he actually wants to be president.  I can imagine that in office he would be the passive figurehead of an administration whose major figures would shape policy for him.  I can imagine that he would be extremely hesitant to order the use of the American military, but I can as easily imagine that he would be reckless in ordering violent and disastrous military engagements.

Would Trump actually serve out his term?  Who knows?  Clearly, from his point of view, his best moment would be his triumphant election night declaration of victory.  He would have to put his holdings, such as they may be, in a blind trust -- an action that might be more painful for him than he now realizes.

A real working class movement will take time to develop, and at this point, I think Sanders is our best bet.  If there were a way that I could speak with him, I would beg him to transform his campaign apparatus into a standing movement, funded by the commitment of millions of his supporters to make small regular donations.  That is a movement I would embrace with joy.

DELEGATE UPDATE

Here is the spreadsheet with the Nevada results [Trump may pick, up two more].

State Pledged Delegates Likely Trump Actual Trump Trump Vote %
New Hampshire 20 7 10 35
South Carolina 50 41 50 32.5
Alabama 47 32
Arkansas 37 14
Georgia 76 40
Massachusetts 39 14
Okalahoma 40 20
Tennessee 55 28
Texas 152 86
Vermont 16 6
Virginia 46 17
Louisiana 44 16
Idaho 29 10
Mississippi 37 14
Michigan 56 21
Puero Rico 20 7
Ohio 63 63
Florida 99 99
Illinois 66 25
Missouri 49 34
North Carolina 72 25
Arizona 58 58
Wisconsin 42 30
New York 92 52
Connecticut 25 14
Delaware 16 16
Maryland 38 29
Pennsylvania 68 14
Rhode Island 16 6
Indiana 54 45
West Virginia 31 18
Oregon 25 9
California 169 145
Montana 24 24
New Jersey 48 48
New Mexico 21 8
South Dakota 26 26
Nebraska 33 33
Washington 41 14
1940 1208
Caucus States
Iowa 30 7
Nevada 30 12
Alaska 25
Colorado 34
Minnesota 35
North Dakota 25
Wyoming 26
Kansas 40
Kentucky 42
Maine 20
Hawaii 16
District of Columbia 19
Northern Mariana Islands 6
Virgin Islands 6
Utah 40
394
Territorial Convention
Guam 6
American Samoa 6
12
Trump Total 79
Needed to Win 1237

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

THE SUPERIOR WISDOM OF COMPUTER PROGRAMS

Emptying the Spam folder in my e-mail program, I noticed that the automated Spam filter had snagged a message from Carly Fiorina.  I think we are ready for fully interactive robots [so long as they are not Cuban-American.]

JUST WONDERING

Has anyone besides me noticed that Paul Krugman has become increasingly self-referential?  The sickly sweet smell of narcissism hangs about his columns.

CLARIFICATION

In my post, I was not arguing the case for Bernie against Hillary.  I have done that elsewhere.  I was trying to explain why Clinton does dramatically better in the African-American community of Democratic Party voters than he does.  My answer was, rather simplemindedly, that her location on the political spectrum is closer to the center of that community than his is.  This is true regardless of her history or that of her husband [or of Bernie.]  

I continue to think that his campaign is valuable even though he will lose, because it is reawakening the left wing of the Democratic Party.  Indeed, if he chooses, as I dearly hope, to transform his campaign into a permanent movement, he has the potential to transform American politics and the Democratic Party.  For that reason, I shall continue to donate to his campaign until, very soon, I hit the $2,700 limit.  

HO HUM, ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER CAUCUS

The excitement has gone out of the primary season now that I know how it will end five months from now.  Come the end of July, we shall have a Clinton/Trump contest.  I have written about this before, but let me bring up to date my reasons for this apparently precipitous judgment.  Democrats first.

Bernie will fall short because he is unable to draw substantial support from the African-American and Latino voting blocs, despite his remarkable generational appeal to young voters.  White people tend to mistake the historic courageous, sustained commitment to racial justice in the Black community with a progressive political orientation.  In fact, taken as a whole, the African-American community is politically  moderate, and on some issues [such as LGBT rights], genuinely  conservative.  There are of course dramatic exceptions, such as the great W. E. B. DuBois, whose transformational work, Black Reconstruction, is built on Marxist principles.  But as I observed recently in this space, the Civil Rights, Women's and LGBT movements all sought the perfection, not the overthrow, of capitalism.  Bernie really is unlike any serious candidate for the American presidency in many generations.  Speaking objectively, the Clintons have been godawful for Black men and women, but their centrist politics fit perfectly with the mainstream of the African-American community.  About the Latino community I cannot speak with confidence, from a lack of knowledge.  In a two-person race, there is no room for complex bank shots and clever tactics.  If you get fewer votes, you lose.  Bernie will get fewer votes. He will lose.

The Republican race is rather more complex.  My original calculations underestimated the number of delegates Trump would win because of my failure to notice that many of the so-called Super-delegates are committed by state regulations to vote on the first Convention ballot for the candidate who gets the most votes in their state primary.  That is why  Trump got 50 delegates in South Carolina, not 45.  But Trump is pulling about 35% of the vote, and even though that will increase as one or two more candidates drop out, why can the Republican Establishment not coalesce around Rubio and put him above 50%?  There are three reasons:

First, the rules are written so that even in the non-winner-take -all states [which is most of them], only the first and second place vote getters win many delegates.  Rubio will win some of those second place delegates, Cruz will win others, Kasich may win a few.  So no one non-Trump candidate will accumulate a significant pile of delegates during the multi-candidate phase.

Second, Cruz, as they used to say in pre-school, does not work and play well with others.  He will not drop out in deference to Rubio.  Even if he did, many of his voters would gravitate to Trump, but that is idle speculation, because he will not drop out.  This will keep Rubio from overtaking Trump's vote totals.

Third, Kasich will stay in the race until March 15th, when Ohio's winner-take-all primary will earn him, he hopes, 69 delegates.  By staying in that long, he pretty well sinks Rubio's hopes of forging a winning Establishment-backed coalition.  Even if Kasich does in fact win Ohio, his delegate total will be too small to deny Trump a first-ballot win at the Convention.

Who will win the presidency?  Early head-to-head match-ups between Clinton and Trump or Sanders and Trump show Clinton beating Trump by 3%, Sanders beating Trump by 6%.  Considering what an appalling candidate Trump is, those numbers are not reassuring.  Clinton should crush Trump with Latinos, African-Americans, and women, and should do reasonably well with white working class men, all of which ought to be reassuring. 

If Trump wins the presidency, it will make no lasting difference to me because I will kill myself.



Sunday, February 21, 2016

REPLY TO A QUESTION

David asks, " Professor Wolff, could you say more about why you're deeply fearful of a Trump-Clinton match up?"  Needless to say, I have given this a great deal of thought.  Let me try to explain.

First of all some facts garnered from the primary season thus far:

1.  Republican turnout in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina has been extremely high, a bad sign. 

2.   Trump is doing well across the Republican electorate, among those self-identified as Very Conservative, Conservative, Moderate, and Evangelical.  He is not a candidate of the far right, as Cruz is.

3.  Trump is very deft at shifting ground in response to evidence of what works and does not.  He is an extremely skillful campaigner.

4.  Trump appears to be bringing out large numbers of Republican voters.

5.  Clinton is an appalling campaigner.  She is utterly inauthentic, fails to inspire young people [so-called Millennials], has no discernible message, seems clueless about the negative effect of her handling of the Goldman Sachs speech issue.

All of these are bad signs for the general election.

I am fearful that Clinton will be unusually vulnerable to the sorts of shrewd, sharp, unprincipled personal attacks in which Trump specializes.  I am fearful that she will fail to mobilize the Obama coalition that elected him twice.  She ought to crush the women's vote, the Black vote, the Latino vote, but thought she will carry them, she very well may not inspire them, and in today's American politics, Turn out is everything.

I believe the Republican base hates Clinton.  She will not, I fear, draw many crossover Republicans appalled by Trump.

Running as Clinton is for a third consecutive Democratic term, the odds are against her unless she succeeds in motivating large numbers of non-voters to come out and vote.

Those are some of the reasons why I am fearful.  I could go on!


TRUMP WILL WIN THE NOMINATION

The South Carolina results are in.  With 32.5% of the vote, Trump all 50 delegates.  My calculations were correct, save for my failure to understand that the 5 Superdelegates must vote for the overall vote winner on the first ballot at the Convention.  This is the second state in a row in which the polls have been accurate.  What is more, the race has developed, as I projected, into a three-way contest among Trump, Cruz, and Rubio with Trump getting 30-35% of the vote and Cruz and  Rubio sharing 45-50%.  If the polls for the Super Tuesday [March 1] states prove equally accurate, my analysis shows that Trump will have enough delegates for nomination before the Convention.

Clinton won the Nevada caucuses and pretty clearly will win the nomination.  I am deeply fearful of the outcome of this match up, for several reasons, but we must await the inevitable polls.

Here is my up-dated spreadsheet, giving 44 delegates to Trump:

State Pledged Delegates Likely Trump Actual Trump Trump Vote %
New Hampshire 20 7 10 35
South Carolina 50 41 50 32.5
Alabama 47 32
Arkansas 37 14
Georgia 76 40
Massachusetts 39 14
Okalahoma 40 20
Tennessee 55 28
Texas 152 86
Vermont 16 6
Virginia 46 17
Louisiana 44 16
Idaho 29 10
Mississippi 37 14
Michigan 56 21
Puero Rico 20 7
Ohio 63 63
Florida 99 99
Illinois 66 25
Missouri 49 34
North Carolina 72 25
Arizona 58 58
Wisconsin 42 30
New York 92 52
Connecticut 25 14
Delaware 16 16
Maryland 38 29
Pennsylvania 68 14
Rhode Island 16 6
Indiana 54 45
West Virginia 31 18
Oregon 25 9
California 169 145
Montana 24 24
New Jersey 48 48
New Mexico 21 8
South Dakota 26 26
Nebraska 33 33
Washington 41 14
1940 1208
Caucus States
Iowa 30 7
Nevada 30
Alaska 25
Colorado 34
Minnesota 35
North Dakota 25
Wyoming 26
Kansas 40
Kentucky 42
Maine 20
Hawaii 16
District of Columbia 19
Northern Mariana Islands 6
Virgin Islands 6
Utah 40
394
Territorial Convention
Guam 6
American Samoa 6
12
Trump Total 67
Needed to Win 1273

Saturday, February 20, 2016

THERE ARE NO SECOND ACTS IN AMERICAN LIVES

This famous line by F. Scott Fitzgerald is often applied to American literature, a thought that crossed my mind when the news came in of the passing of Harper Lee.  One thinks as well of Ralph Ellison, J. D. Salinger, Joseph Heller.  Why is it that so many truly gifted American writers produce one great early work and then seem not to be able to follow it up with a lifetime of first rate novels?  There are of course many who do:  Melville, Twain, Cooper, Wharton, Mailer, et al.

In my admittedly scanty knowledge of European literature, this seems not to be true of the English, the French, or the Germans. Am I correct?

Any ideas?

Friday, February 19, 2016

WORTH READING

Many of you, I imagine, are aware that Nobel laureate and NY TIMES op ed writer Paul Krugman has been extremely critical of Bernie Sanders' economic proposals, calling them voodoo economics of them left.  Sanders has been relying on an analysis by UMass Amherst economist Gerald Friedman, whom I do not recall ever having met, but who overlapped my time at UMass by some thirty years or so.  I wrote to Friedman to congratulate him and to ask whether he had written a reply to a letter recently written by four economists and cited bu Krugman.  Friedman said he had been swamped by media attention, but sent me a reply written by Jamie Galbraith.  I think it is worth reading.  Here it is:

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712
February 18, 2016

The Honorable Alan Krueger
The Honorable Austan Goolbee
The Honorable Christina Romer
The Honorable Laura D'Andrea Tyson

Dear Alan, Austan, Christina and Laura,

I was highly interested to see your letter of yesterday's date to Senator Sanders and Professor Gerald Friedman. I respond here as a former Executive Director of the Joint Economic Committee – the congressional counterpart to the CEA. You write that you have applied rigor to your analyses of economic proposals by Democrats and Republicans. On reading this sentence I looked to the bottom of the page, to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman's study. I found nothing there. You go on to state that Professor Friedman makes “extreme claims” that “cannot be supported by the economic evidence.” You object to the projection of “huge beneficial impacts on growth rates, income and employment that exceed even the most grandiose predictions by Republicans about the impact of their tax cut proposals.”

Matthew Yglesias makes an important point about your letter: “It's noteworthy that the former CEA chairs criticizing Friedman didn't bother to run through a detailed explanation of their problems with the paper. To them, the 5.3 percent figure was simply absurd on its face, and it was good enough for them to say so, relying on their authority to generate media coverage.” So, let's first ask whether an economic growth rate, as projected, of 5.3 percent per year is, as you claim, “grandiose.” There are not many ambitious experiments in economic policy with which to compare it, so let's go back to the Reagan years. What was the actual average real growth rate in 1983, 1984, and 1985, following the enactment of the Reagan tax cuts in 1981? Just under 5.4 percent. That's a point of history, like it or not.

You write that “no credible economic research supports economic impacts of these magnitudes.” But how did Professor Friedman make his estimates? The answer is in his paper. What Professor Friedman did, was to use the standard impact assumptions and forecasting methods of the mainstream economists and institutions. For example, Professor Friedman starts with a fiscal multiplier of 1.25, and shades it down to the range of 0.8 by the mid 2020s. Is this “not credible”? If that's your claim, it's an indictment of the methods of (for instance) the CBO, the OMB, and the CEA. To be sure, skepticism about standard forecasting methods is perfectly reasonable. I'm a skeptic myself. My 2014 book The End of Normal is all about problems with mainstream forecasting.

In the specific case of this paper, one can quibble with the out-year multipliers, or with the productivity assumptions, or with the presumed impact of a higher minimum wage. One can invoke the trade deficit or the exchange rate. Professor Friedman makes all of these points himself. But those issues are well within mainstream norms. There is no “magic asterisk,” no strange theory involved here. And the main effect of adjusting the assumptions, which would a perfectly reasonable thing to do, would be to curtail the growth rate after a few years – not at the beginning, when it would matter most. It is not fair or honest to claim that Professor Friedman's methods are extreme. On the contrary, with respect to forecasting method, they are largely mainstream. Nor is it fair or honest to imply that you have given Professor Friedman's paper a rigorous review. You have not. What you have done, is to light a fire under Paul Krugman, who is now using his high perch to airily dismiss the Friedman paper as “nonsense.”

Paul is an immensely powerful figure, and many people rely on him for careful assessments. It seems clear that he has made no such assessment in this case. Instead, Paul relies on you to impugn an economist with far less reach, whose work is far more careful, in point of fact, than your casual dismissal of it. He and you also imply that Professor Friedman did his work for an unprofessional motive. But let me point out, in case you missed it, that Professor Friedman is a political supporter of Secretary Clinton. His motives are, on the face of it, not political.

For the record, in case you're curious, I'm not tied to Professor Friedman in any way. But the powerful – such as Paul and yourselves – should be careful where you step. Let's turn, finally, to the serious question. What does the Friedman paper really show? The answer is quite simple, and the exercise is – while not perfect – almost entirely ordinary. What the Friedman paper shows, is that under conventional assumptions, the projected impact of Senator Sanders' proposals stems from their scale and ambition. When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result. That, by the way, is the lesson of the Reagan era – like it or not. It is a lesson that, among today's political leaders, only Senator Sanders has learned.

Yours, (Jamie) James K. Galbraith

Executive Director, Joint Economic Committee, 1981-2


Score one for Bernie, I would say.  It will be interesting to see whether Krugman deigns to reply.  He has been taking a great deal of heat from his readers, and exhibits a skin as thin as Trump's.

TOMORROW

Tomorrow we shall get the South Carolina Republican primary results.  That will permit me to make another test of the estimates I posted in December and have several times alluded to since. Trump appears to be doing everything he can think of to lose his race for the nomination, but his efforts have so far failed to kill his candidacy. If my projection holds up, then I will begin to feel confident that he is going to secure the nomination.  Since it looks more and more as though Bernie will fall short, we shall then confront a Trump/Clinton race.  I hope my apprehension at that prospect is unfounded.

HOT OFF THE PRESSES

Lecture Seven, the last on the Kalahari and Wilmsen, is now available on YouTube.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE?

Now that Donald Trump appears likely to win the Republican presidential nomination, we may contemplate the probability of a debate between Trump and Clinton or Trump and Sanders in which there is common agreement that George W. Bush lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in order to take the country into a disastrous war.   I freely confess that  I did not think I would live to see the day.  What is truly fascinating is that this heretical statement seems not to be costing Trump any support in a South Carolina Republican primary.  Trump is clearly going to run to the left of Clinton on foreign policy.

LUCKY SEVEN

The seventh lecture has been recorded and processed, and will be uploaded to YouTube on Friday.  Then it is on to literary criticism and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  Three to go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ANOTHER REPLY TO WALLACE STEVENS

Another thoughtful comment from Wallace Stevens.  Here it is, in part:

"It appears that Wilmsen, with convincing evidence, pretty well knocks the stuffing out of the idea that the Zhu people are intact representatives of pre-Neolithic, pre-agricultural times. But I am still curious about what can be said about human society in Paleolithic times, while concurring that the Zhu, and other people like them living today, are not a reliable guide. 

You seem to suggest that property, surplus and social hierarchy all begin with agriculture and settled living, although I may be misunderstanding you on this point. But for true hunter-gatherers (I assume that Wilmsen doesn't dispute the existence of such people at SOME time in our past) property would be equal to territory--the land that you used to hunt and to gather. And one can easily imagine blood being shed over such property and hierarchies being established based on control of such property. And why not a surplus too? If game and other items were bountiful through some natural good fortune, or if weaker or less well equipped tribes could be excluded from lands rich in food of various kinds. And if a surplus, then why not trading? It all seems quite plausible, without there being any agriculture or agricultural surplus. Notwithstanding the foregoing, what we do know for near certain is that there were periods of thousands of years where almost nothing changed, in terms of art and technology. These were extremely stable cultures, even if they did, as I am conjecturing, exhibit many features of post-Paleolithic societies.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this."

This poses a genuine puzzle, the answer to which may be forever denied us, despite the imaginative use to which paleontologists have put the available fossil evidence.  The dramatic contrast between the explosive change of the past 10,000 years and the apparent lack of fundamental change for the previous 200,000 is our starting point.  But the paucity of data forces us to retreat from evidence to speculation and theoretical reasoning.  Could there have been political and economic class divisions and hierarchies?  One would think so.  But then, why during 200,000 years no evidence of technological change?  Certainly there could have been, indeed must have been, violent conflicts over food, favorable cave sites, maybe mates, just as there are in other mammalian species.

The Neolithic Revolution is often attributed to the end of the last Ice Age, which affected Mesopotamia, I would think, more than Southern Africa. 

Lord knows I do not have a clue to the answers to these questions, and I do not think paleontologists do either.  There is one data point to keep in mind:  excavations of sites where there are art works and other evidences have led some anthropologists, as I think I mentioned in my lectures, to distinguish homo sapiens, biologically identical with modern human beings over a span of 200,000 years, from the sub-species homo sapiens sapiens, whose appearance is dated perhaps 50,000 years ago, and which is identified as culturally modern as well as biologically modern.  The evidence here, let us recall, comes from such sites as Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France.  There are San cave paintings as well, but they are only 3000 years old.

One of my lasting regrets is that in 1954, when I was riding my tiny motorcycle from Oxford to Rome, I could have made a detour to Lascaux to see the cave paintings and did not.  Now it is impossible to gain admittance to the cave.


All of which is to say to Wallace Stevens, "I just don't know."

CINEMA, FILMS, MOVIES, AND FLICS

As I rather hoped and anticipated, readers of this blog continue to offer delightful suggestions of movies they love, all of which triggers my own memories.  Since I make a big show of being left-wing, I really ought to mention I'm All Right, Jack, a splendid 1960 Peter Sellers comedy about British working-class communist life and politics.  I have actually written here before about my favorite scene:  a group of workers made superfluous by changes in the factory where they work are kept on at the demand of the union [headed by Sellers], and spend each workday playing cards behind a stack of material.  One day Sellers calls a strike and the workers walk off their jobs.  At first the card players do not notice, but when they see the walkout they jump up as if stung by bees and join their comrades -- presumably to go home and play cards!

It is the most perfect gloss I have ever seen on Marx's famous discussion in the Economic-Philosophic Manuscripts of the attitude toward work under capitalism.

And then, of course, there is Kind Hearts and Coronets [1949], a reminder that Alex Guinness had a long and distinguished career before Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Force.

Monday, February 15, 2016

MY RELIABLE READERS

I just knew that the older folks who visit this blog would come up with a raft of great old movies.  I have seen most of the ones mentioned, but David Auerbach is clearly way beyond me in movie knowledge.

By the way, some of you may have missed Donald Trump saying that George W. Bush should have been impeached for lying us into the Iraq war.  I mean, the LEADING candidate for the Republican nomination saying that!   This is a year to remember.

GOLDEN OLDIES

Chrismealy asks about other old films besides Born Yesterday that are hilarious.  A  lot depends on what you mean by "old."  Young Frankenstein is spectacularly funny, but it is only 42 years old, which for me is just yesterday.  A number of the Tracy/Hepburn films are splendid -- Pat and Mike and Adam's Rib among them. The writing credits for Young Frankenstein, by the way, list Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Mary Shelley, which is a hoot all by itself.  a propos, I stole the title for In Defense of Anarchism from Mark Twain's essay "In Defense of Harriet Shelley."  Harriet Shelley was the poet's first wife.  She committed suicide after Percy took up with Mary, the daughter of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and the anarchist philosopher William Godwin.  Twain thought Harriet had gotten a bad rap from Percy and his friends.

Anyone have some favorite oldies to suggest?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

BORN YESTERDAY

While I was making dinner this evening, I turned on the TV in the kitchen [yes, Virginia, there is a TV in my kitchen], and stumbled on the classic 1950 movie, Born Yesterday, with the inimitable Judy Holiday, and Broderick Crawford and William Holden.  If you have not seen it, I urge you to find it somewhere and watch it.  It evokes a simpler and happier time when it was possible to believe, at least for the moment and if you were not Black, in the redeeming American dream. Holiday, who died at a tragically young age, won the Oscar for her luminous performance.  This seems to be Judy Holiday day on TCM because earlier, that station was also screening Adam's Rib.

Holiday died in 1965, when I was thirty-one.  I would have liked to meet her.


DON'T BLAME ME

The death of Scalia has intensified our collective awareness of how much is at stake in this election. As someone who anguishes about this daily, I am constantly beset by the worry that I am wrongly estimating the election chances of Clinton and Sanders and hence allowing myself to back Sanders more than I ought.  When these doubts threaten to overwhelm me, it is oddly comforting to recall that it makes no actual difference at all what I think or say.  I am just a pimple on the arse of history, and not a big one either.

DE MORTUIS NIL NISI BONUM

As Samuel Johnson did not say but might have, there is nothing like a Supreme Court vacancy to concentrate the mind.  The death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has forced us all to focus on a question that had already been raised, viz. who will get to appoint perhaps as many as three justices in the next presidential term?  In light of the impossibility in the near term of taking back the House, this is probably the most important question of domestic policy before us in this election cycle.

There is no reason, so far as I can see, to distinguish Clinton's probable High Court appointees from those of Sanders, so we are left with the question of electability.  I have said here before that I think which of the Democratic candidates is more electable depends on who gets the Republican nomination.  I have also said that I think Clinton would do better than Sanders against anyone but Trump, and that I suspect Sanders would do better against Trump, but I am no longer convinced of this guess.  Let me explain my current thinking, for anyone who might be interested.

Sanders appeals to the young and would, I believe, mobilize them to turn out, which is crucial for his chances.  I also think he would steal away some of Trump's working-class non-college educated White male supporters, which could make an enormous difference in the general election.   Trump will attack Sanders as a communist [he has already started to do so], but my  instinct is that that charge will simply have no resonance with today's electorate.  The imminence of Trump's nomination might bring Bloomberg into the field, which, I think, would ensure the election of Sanders.

I have been assuming that Clinton would crush the women's vote in all age categories, ensuring her election against virtually any Republican save Trump, but her performance thus far is giving me doubts.  She seems to me not to be a good campaigner, despite her many strengths, such as  her manifest knowledge and intelligence.  I also think she would be extremely vulnerable to the sorts of shrewd unprincipled personal attacks that are Trump's specialty.

Will Trump get the nomination?  On December 22nd I laid out my analysis of the race, based on the details of delegate allocation to be found in the Green Papers [Google it] and the assumption that Trump gets 35-40% of the vote pretty generally.  The key question is the reliability of the polls.  In the first primary, in New Hampshire, the polls were spot on for Trump.  If they prove accurate for him next Saturday in South Carolina, I am going to assume that they will continue to be accurate going forward, and that he will win the nomination.  The jumble below him -- Rubio rising, Rubio falling, Rubio being re-born, Kasich rising, Bush calling in the entire family -- seems to ensure that no one Establishment candidate will emerge any time soon, which simply improves Trump's chances.


Meanwhile, we must all pray that Obama does not do something stupid, like tacking far to the right for a High Court nominee who might, in his dreams, win confirmation.  In light of the time it took him to notice that the Republicans were not interested in compromise, I am not at all confident about this.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

AN IDLE THOUGHT ON A SLOW SATURDAY

A bit of Googling confirmed my memory that Evangelical Christians have higher divorce rates, higher out-of-wedlock birthrates, and are more likely to Google porn sites than non-believing Jews, for example.  Perhaps Trump is on to something in South Carolina.  I would strongly suggest that Ted Cruz consult Matthew 23, in particular verse 27.  I assume he always has his Bible with him.  

A CURIOUS CIRCUMSTANCE

If Trump wins the fight for the Republican nomination, as I more and more believe he will, there will be four possible match-ups come November:  Trump-Clinton, Trump-Sanders, Trump-Bloomberg-Clinton, Trump-Bloomberg-Sanders.  Three of these four hopefuls live in New York City and the fourth was born in Brooklyn, with the accent to prove it.

When I was a boy, we called a World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers or the Yankees and the Giants a subway series. This is going to be a subway election.

A STEEP HILL TO CLIMB

As we move into the run-up to the 2016 election, it is worth reminding ourselves what a steep hill either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton will have to climb.  In the first two and a half centuries of the United States, it was quite common for one party to hold the White House for three or more consecutive terms: Jefferson, Monroe, and John Q. Adams for seven terms, Jackson and Van Buren for three terms, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, and Arthur for four terms, McKinley, Roosevelt and Taft for four terms, Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover for three terms, and of course FDR and Truman for five terms.

But since 1952, only Reagan and George H. W. Bush have managed it [if we do not count Al Gore, who really won in 2000 but had the victory stolen by the Supreme Court.]  I have long thought that Clinton would have a difficult time against a standard conservative Republican and that Sanders would have no chance at all, but if my projections are correct and Trump wins the nomination, I think a trifecta is more than likely.

The South Carolina Republican primary in just seven days is the key.  If Trump's 35% in the polls holds up, and if the other Republican candidates stay in the race through March 1st [so-called Super Tuesday], Trump, I believe, will sweep to the nomination.  

At that point, Bloomberg may announce a third party run, which would ensure a Democratic victory.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A REPLY TO CHRIS

Chris asks a deceptively simple question:  "Given that you've spent so much of your life studying race and class, where do you side on the whole race-class debate? Race is reducible to class? Race is separate but interconnected to class. Race is separate. Etc."

I have written about this before, but it seems appropriate to return to the issue in the context of the current race between Sanders and Clinton for the Democratic nomination, just before the South Carolina primary.

Quite obviously,  neither race nor class is "reducible" to the other, and equally obviously, they are interconnected in endlessly complex ways.  Here, put as simply as I am able, is my view of their differences:

The struggles for gender equality, racial equality, and equality of sexual orientation are all, in my view, struggles for the perfection of capitalism, not its overthrow.   I think Marx was right [and he was not at all alone in this view in the nineteenth century] that capitalism is a revolutionary force whose tendency it is to destroy social, economic, and political differences based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or [though Marx would never have said so] sexual orientation.  That is to say, it is the tendency of capitalism to erode or destroy social and economic differences grounded in anything other than one's position in the social relations of production.  Thus capitalism was, when it appeared, and is in its essence, politically progressive and liberal in its orientation.  The ideal capitalist world is a world in which men, women, Blacks, Whites, Gays and Straights are all equally and with rigorous fairness exploited by capital, a world furthermore in which no religious beliefs interfere with the smooth accumulation of capital.

The evidence of the past century strongly suggests that Marx overestimated the power of capitalism to accomplish this transformation of the pre-capitalist world, but he was correct, I think, in its tendency. 

The liberation struggles of women, African-Americans, and the LGBT community are desirable, admirable, essential, and worthy of support and commitment, but they are not, nor have they ever pretended to be, inimical to capitalism itself.

What makes the Sanders campaign extraordinary in American politics is that it is the first campaign in several generations that even hints that capitalism itself is the problem, not the deformations or imperfections of capitalism.  I say "hints" because Bernie is really an FDR liberal, not a genuine socialist in the style of my grandfather [or Eugene V. Debs, to choose a rather more prominent example from the same period of American history.]

Does that help?



LECTURE SIX IS UP

Okay, folks, Lecture Six is available on YouTube.  In the course of the lecture, I made reference to two books,  and promised to post references to them on this blog, so here they are:

Janet Abu-Lughod, BEFORE EUROPEAN HEGEMONY

Eric Wolf, EUROPE AND THE PEOPLE WITHOUT HISTORY

Next week is the last lecture on Wilmsen.  Then on to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and African-American literary theory.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

INTERESTING DATA

S. Wallerstein asks an interesting question -- were the pro-Sanders under $50,000 voters in New Hampshire working class or just young students on their way to making much more than that eventually?  Here are some data that help to answer that.  It does not in general look good for Bernie.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MORE FROM THE HOT STOVE LEAGUE

Lecture Six has been delivered, recorded, edited, converted, and stored, ready to be uploaded on Friday, so now perhaps I can return to the primary campaign.  There is growing in me the wisp of a dream of a Sanders presidency.  Bernie is doing very well indeed with white voters whose household income is $50,000 or under [essentially half of all households, more or less], as well as with the young [the figures there defy belief.]  If he can crack the minority vote, which I believe he can, then we may actually see a Trump/Sanders race, in which case Bloomberg will probably run on a third party ticket.  All the commentators think that would hurt the Democrats more than the Republicans, but I think that is wrong.  Bernie would do well with white working class men, the so-called Reagan Democrats to whom Trump is appealing.  Just imagine:  Bernie against two billionaires!  What more could he ask?

Seriously, this is a moment like none other in my lifetime.  Class interests seem to be taking precedence over cultural, religious, or racial and ethnic concerns.  We may have to trot out all the old union songs and update the lyrics.  Where are Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger when we need them?