My Stuff

Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Sunday, January 31, 2016


On December 20th, I posted my calculations of probable Trump delegate counts state by state, assuming a certain pattern of the vote.  Now that actual primary/caucus season is upon us, I plan to re-post an updated and corrected spreadsheet [with assistance from my son Patrick] each time another primary or caucus is held, comparing the actual results with my estimates.

Just to remind you, my basic assumption [NOT A PREDICTION!] is that Trump pulls 35-40% of the vote consistently, with Cruz and Rubio between them taking another 45-55% and the remaining votes going to various other candidates.

Recall that a candidate needs 1273 delegates to secure the nomination, and that I am assuming Trump will get the endorsement of virtually none of the unelected super-delegates.

Here is the spreadsheet I shall be filling in state by state:

State Pledged Delegates Likely Trump Actual Trump
New Hampshire 20 7
South Carolina 50 41
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
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
Territorial Convention
Guam 6
American Samoa 6
Trump Total 0
Needed to Win 1273


Since I am pretty sure that Clinton will win the nomination, and even that she will narrowly win Iowa tomorrow, this is my last chance to indulge in Bernie fantasies.  I watched the Robert Reich YouTube quickie to which Chris linked, and it was great.  I love the fact that Bernie does better than Clinton in hypothetical match-ups, even though I don't think they mean anything at all.  And I continue to nurture the dream that after he loses the nomination, Bernie will convert his huge funding base among supporters into an on-going source of support for a genuine political movement aimed at taking back the House and pushing America to the left.

There, how's that for looking at a few drops and seeing a glass half-full?

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Paul Krugman, perhaps the most influential Op Ed opinion writer in the world today, has now become a complete flack for Clinton in her drive for the nomination.  Although I have enjoyed Krugman's columns, for all that he is unable to pronounce the words "Karl Marx" [the Lord Voldemort of the Liberal blogosphere -- He Who Shall Not Be Named], the cheapness of his criticisms of Sanders and the extent of his apologiae for Clinton begin to grate.  Here is his latest.

Now, I happen to agree that the flap about the e-mails is overblown, although it was sheer stupidity on Clinton's part to have used a private server and a private e-mail account, when she well knew that she would be making another run for the presidency.  But Klugman now sounds quite like the redoubtable Debbie Wasserman-Schulz.

Friday, January 29, 2016


Once the caucuses and primaries start [Monday], each time there is another caucus or primary I shall post a spreadsheet showing all of the primary or caucus states, what I forecast several months ago in delegate totals for Trump on the basis of certain assumptions of vote shares, and what he actually accumulates in delegates.  I am now more and more convinced that Trump will be the nominee.

I am completely committed to the proposition that it is desperately important to elect a Democrat, but that leaves me quite puzzled as to whether Sanders or Clinton would do better against Trump.  I think Clinton would be extremely vulnerable to the sorts of outrageous personal attacks Trump specializes in.  Furthermore, I have no doubt that should he win the nomination, Trump will seamlessly and without the slightest embarrassment jettison his extremist views and move to the center, challenging Clinton there.  On the other hand, Clinton has built in demographic advantages that should win her the election against Trump.  As for  Sanders, he would, I think, be completely invulnerable to Trump's brand of personal attack, and he would actually do well with typical angry White male Trump voters.  But I cannot quite believe that Americans would elect a self-described Democratic Socialist, even though that is just code for an FDR liberal.

I am aware that my Marxist readers will say "a pox on both their houses," but I have already explained why I think that is a mistake.

By the way, the argument now being advanced by Clinton supporters like Paul Krugman that Sanders cannot get his proposals enacted into law is a complete non-starter.  Neither can Clinton, since the House will be Republican even if there is an Electoral College blow-out.  But Sanders is building a movement, and Clinton is not, and that could change the complexion of American politics.

Stay tuned.  It is hours now instead of months.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


The most straightforward way to find my YouTube lectures is to look for "Robert Paul Wolff Ideological Critique Lecture One [or Two or Three or Four, etc.]  I have also started putting tags on them.  So Lecture Four is tagged "Kalahari and !Kung and Ideology, for example.

The number of viewers is strikingly skewed.  Almost sixteen hundred for the first lecture, six hundred for the second, only one hundred for the third.  But they are there for the ages, so a year from now, we shall see.

This second segment -- Lectures Four through Seven, probably, is the real heart of the series.  I am very high on Wilmsen, whose book is, I think, a masterpiece.


Lecture Four in my Ideological Critique series is now up on YouTube.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


These are hard times for rational agents, and it is necessary to take pleasure wherever it is offered.

The Republican Lt. Governor of Texas called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood, Inc. based on the videos produced by anti-abortion activists purporting to show the organization crassly and heartlessly selling body parts from aborted fetuses at a profit.  A grand jury was empanelled by a "proudly pro-life" District Attorney and presented with evidence of Planned Parenthood's wrongdoing.  The grand jury declined to indict Planned Parenthood and instead indicted the two men who made the videos.

It doesn't get any better than that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


As I have already observed, the Wilmsen book, Land Filled With Flies, is so rich and complex that I despair of doing it justice in the lectures I am now beginning to prepare.  If some of you are following along with me and are willing to do some reading, could you at least perhaps read the seven page Introduction?  I obviously cannot stand in front of the camcorder and simply read all seven pages, but I am sorely tempted.  If you do just that, it will very much enrich your understanding of my lectures.

Back to the drawing board.


I am delighted to see that there are other Sprachpolizei among my readers.  Great suggestions!  But there might be some who wonder what the fuss is about.  Language evolves, after all.  Shakespeare's plays are full of usages that grate on modern ears.  So who cares if "begs the question" has evolved to mean "forcefully raises the question" rather than "assumes what is to be proved" and "disinterested" now means "uninterested" rather than "not swayed by interest?"

My reply is this:  Language is entirely conventional, onomatopoeia notwithstanding.  So any sequence of letters in English is available to be assigned any meaning native speakers choose.  But there are conceptual distinctions that it is extremely useful to mark and maintain by means of linguistic distinctions.  "Not interested" really means something different from "not swayed by personal interest."  We want to be able to say that a judge should not be swayed by private interest -- should be disinterested -- whereas a saint cares nothing for the pleasures and rewards of this world -- is uninterested in them.  There are also concepts for which it is useful to have linguistic expressions.  Assumes what is to be proved is one of them.  And we damned well better be able to distinguish between prescribe and proscribe before we start taking our daily medications!

Monday, January 25, 2016


"Fortuitous" means "by accident," not "fortunate."

"Compendious" means "concise," not "fully elaborated."

"Fulsome" means "excessive," "adulatory," not "full" or "complete."

And "begs the question" means "assumes what is to be proved," it does not mean "begs to be asked."

Oh, by the way, "penultimate" does not mean "to the nth degree."  It  means "next to last ."

Now, is that so hard?


As usual, Wallace Stevens asks an intelligent and thoughtful question that calls for a lengthy reply.  Here is what he says:

"I watched lecture three on the weekend and continue to enjoy the series. I have a comment and a question that stems from the comment. You discuss Mannheim’s idea that an ideologically-based weltanschauung can affect our perceptions of time itself, and you make the point that his idea is deeply disturbing for a Kantian. But in listening to your discussion of Mannheim’s four examples of this phenomenon, it struck me that what he is really talking about is our ideologically blinkered perceptions, or interpretations, of human history--human time and its meaning--and not time in the physical sense, as it exists independent of human events. I think that people living under, or within, all four world views would agree, for example, on notions like “before” and “after,” and the closely-related ideas of cause and effect and the irreversible, “one way” nature of time. But, and now we come to my question, was it not time in this more fundamental, physical sense that Kant had in mind when he talked about our capacity for a priori understanding? By the way, this is not a “gotcha” question--I have only the most limited understanding of these matters. But I didn’t think that Kant had a theory of human history. I thought that was more Hegel’s department."

The short answer is, "Yes, quite right," but there is a great deal more to be said.  If you go back and read the eighteenth century English philosophers, you find a distinction, often repeated, between what they call Natural Philosophy, by which they mean what we would call the natural sciences, and Moral Philosophy, which encompasses not merely ethics, but History, Psychology, Political Theory, and the like.  The distinction corresponds to the German distinction between naturwissenschaften and geisteswissenschaften.   This distinction goes all the way back to Plato, who deploys it in the famous passage from the Phaedo in which Socrates distinguishes between the physical explanation of how he comes to be in prison awaiting his execution -- an explanation that would reference his bones and ligaments and such -- and the moral explanation of why he has chosen to accept his punishment rather the take opportunity to escape [offered to him, you will recall, by his middle-aged disciple Crito in the Dialogue of the same name.]

The discovery -- and it really was a discovery -- of a third realm, the social, between the physical and the individual, is entirely an accomplishments of the nineteenth century, at least so far as European thought is concerned, and simply cannot be found in the writings of even the greatest seventeenth and eighteenth century thinkers, such as Hume and Kant.  Oh, there were histories, like those of Herodotus and Thucydides, or of Hume and Gibbon, but they were filled with the doings of prominent individuals [or representative characters of the lower orders -- see Erich Auerbach's wonderful discussions of these in Mimesis.]  The social as an independent explanatory category did not exist.

Sad as I am to have to acknowledge it, it was indeed Hegel among others who introduced this category into western philosophy.  It is worth taking a look at the opening and closing chapters of Ḗmile Durkheim's great work Suicide in which he, in effect, creates the discipline of Sociology be arguing that there are phenomena that  can only be explained by positing an independent realm [the "Collective Unconscious" in Durkheim's view] positioned between the physical and the psychological and irreducible to either.

So Wallace Stevens is quite right -- it simply never occurred to Kant that there is a realm of phenomena whose explanation might require reference to categories that are mind-dependent but not universal.  Mannheim knows all of this, of course.  It is what has him so upset.



I was noodling around on YouTube and came upon a short video of my son, Patrick, who is a chess Grandmaster, taking a little test in chess memory originally invented by Herbert Simon.  Patrick is shown a picture of a chess position for five seconds and then is asked to reproduce it.  He gets it almost exactly right [as would many other chess Grandmasters, I gather].  Then he is shown a random scatter of chess pieces on the board for five seconds, and he can hardly reproduce a fraction of it.  The point, of course, is that the real chess position has a logic that Patrick grasps instantly.  The fascinating thing is that the only mistakes Patrick makes are with regard to pieces whose precise position does not make any difference to the game being played.  It took me back twenty  years.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


With Lecture Four recorded, edited, and transformed into the MP4 format suitable for uploading to YouTube on Friday next, I sat down this morning to start work on Lecture Five, in which I shall begin to engage with Edwin Wilmsen's Land Filled With Flies.  Immediately, I realized the manifest impossibility of my task.  The Introduction is a mere seven pages, and yet there is enough in it to require several lectures of explication and commentary!  I have no idea how I am going to manage this, but if a few of you are making an attempt to follow along, and thought perhaps of reading one of the books I am discussing in my lectures, then let the Wilmsen be your choice.  I find it stunningly brilliant.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Lecture Four is delivered, recorded, edited, converted to MP4, and ready to be uploaded next Friday.  The ice and snow still have us trapped in our condo.   No morning walks for a while.


The world outside my condo building is an unbroken sheet of ice, so the NY TIMES was not delivered this morning, and of course I did not go walking, all of which has left a good deal of time for less worthy pursuits than the daily crossword puzzle.  Gail Collins has a column today [that I can read on line -- not the puzzle, which would cost me extra and I hate paying for things on line].  At one point she says this:  "Did you ever fantasize about being able to go back in time and tell people from the past what’s going to happen in the 21st century? I like to envision telling Vincent van Gogh how much his paintings will be selling for. Or I inform George Wallace that he never gets to be president, but a black guy does."

I have that fantasy all the time.  My favorite is somehow going back to the court of Emperor Joseph II, where I tell him that he is famous 250 years later -- as someone who briefly served as a patron of the young musician Mozart.  Then I travel a bit further back in time to tell Bach that the Mass in B Minor, which was never performed in his lifetime, is, three centuries later, considered a transcendently great piece of music.  After that trip I go back to London to tell David Hume that his youthful Treatise of Human Nature, which he disavowed following the attacks by James Beattie, is far and away the greatest work of philosophy ever written in the English language.  And for one last trip back in time, I visit the sports editor of the Boston Globe to assure him that the curse of the Bambino will be lifted, and the Red Sox will indeed once again win a World Series.

It is going to be a long winter.

Friday, January 22, 2016


In response to Ted Talbot, I have re-edited Lecture Three without the musical coda that made it impossible for him to view it [GEMA issues, he said.]  It has now been posted under the title "Robert Paul Wolff Ideological Critique Lecture Three Point One."  Enjoy!


Pollsters have discovered that 36% of Americans under thirty have a favorable view of socialism, which is cited as an explanation of Bernie Sanders' current success in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Can this be?  My old heart beats faster and I think I catch a scent of revolution in the air.

But Bernie never actually says the magic seven words that are graven in my heart:  collective ownership of the means of production.  Instead, he talks about free higher education, or single payer health care, or higher taxes on billionaires -- all admirable short-term goals but not what I have in mind when the word "socialism" passes my lips.

What's up?  Why isn't "socialism" a killer for Bernie?

And then it dawned on me.  The American educational system being what it is, young people haven't a clue what the word "socialism" means, and the media do not enlighten them.  TV bloviators talk endlessly about the fact  that Bernie self-identifies as a "Democratic Socialist ," more or less as though he had acknowledged being a Rastafarian [wrong hair, though].  My guess is that they also don't know those magic seven words either.  As a consequence, the young learn the meaning of "socialism" they way we all learn the meaning of a word in a foreign language -- by observing the contexts in which it is used and inferring the meaning from that.

So Bernie says he is a socialist, and Bernie says he is for single payer and taxing the rich, and the young conclude, "Oh, that is what the word 'socialism' means.  Well, I am for those things, so I guess socialism is all right."

The truth is that operationally, Bernie is an FDR New Deal Liberal, which is to say he is far, far to the left of everyone else in politics today.  That's OK with me.  I was born the year FDR first took office.  I liked FDR, with all his faults.  We could do worse.


Wallace Stevens posted a very long and very thoughtful comment that calls for an extended reply.  I urge you to re-read his entire comment before paging down to my responses.  I am going to try  to respond to it paragraph by paragraph.

Stevens paragraph one:

" I think that you are a bit too loose with the words "explain" and "justify". They are not the same. Neoclassical theory attempts to explain the distribution of income under certain assumptions: if markets are perfectly competitive (including no unions or minimum wage), if we have continuous returns to scale, etc., etc. then one can expect the distribution of total income between capital and labour to be equal to their respective marginal products. Now, one can legitimately challenge that the assumptions are simply too starkly at odds with reality for the theory and its results to be of any use. And one could propose more realistic assumptions and build a more plausible model, based on those assumptions, that might point to some different conclusion about the distribution of income. But one would still have "justified" nothing. One would simply have offered what might be a superior explanation (this is what, in my albeit limited understanding, I see Piketty doing). It would be a great, and unwarranted, leap to go from there to saying that you have justified something or that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds (certainly, that is not what Piketty concluded). "

This is perfectly correct and a good deal too disingenuous [not on Stevens' part! but on the part of the economist s who regularly say this sort  of thing.]  It is the intellectual's version of bait and switch.  [For those unfamiliar with this expression, bait and switch is the practice of promising fabulous savings on one item in an ad -- the bait -- and then offering another more expensive item when the customer comes into the store -- the switch.]  When challenged, economists say they are just building pure mathematical models that claim no special relation to reality.  But then when the naysayers have gone away mollified, they return to making policy recommendations on the basis of the models, as though they did actually have something to do with reality.  The casual invocation of the notion of marginal product even by really smart economists like Krugman is an example.

Stevens paragraph two:

"There is no question that the conclusions of neoclassical economics can, and have, been used for ideological purposes as Mannheim would define "ideological." But I feel that this is a bit like Darwin being hijacked by social Darwinism, or, for that matter, Marx being hijacked by the Soviets. For fun, the next time you meet one of these ideologues, ask them what impact the original distribution of capital has on the theory and its conclusions (Answer: None). Then suggest that it is indeed all for the best in the best of all possible worlds, with the modest proposal that we transfer all of the ownership of capital from the plutocrats to a giant public pension fund that invests for their retirement on behalf of the workers. The whole, mathematically elegant neoclassical machinery—regardless of whether you think it is realistic or not—runs just the same and points to exactly the same conclusions, independent of who owns the capital."

Again, perfectly true, but also not representative of what real economists actually do when they enter the world of policy proposals, which they always do.  Paul Samuelson liked to say that as far as the models were concerned, it made no difference whether capital hired labor or labor hired capital, which was of course perfectly true.  I am not entirely sure that Samuelson, brilliant as he was, fully understood that this demonstrated the utter irrelevance of neo-classical economics to an understanding of capitalism.  The jibe about Darwin being hijacked by Social Darwinism is not really quite a propos, because it is the creators of neo-classical economics themselves who have done the hijacking.  If Darwin had used his own theories to push Social Darwinism, or if Marx himself had proposed Soviet style state capitalism, the comparison would be more precise.

Stevens paragraph three:
"Also, it is worth remembering that Marx's methodological approach, although less mathematical, was not that different from the neoclassicals in its use of simplifying assumptions like perfect competition. And all theorizing involves some degree of reduction."

Once again, true, and a  really interesting point.  The classical political economists and the neo-classicals can be seen as making precisely opposite simplifications:  the classsicals assume a single dominant technique of production in each industry, which makes their reasoning nicely formulisable using linear algebra.  The neo-classicals assume an infinite number of techniques of production in each industry [and a production function that is continuous, hence differentiable], which makes their reasoning nicely formulisable using calculus.  But this is not at  all merely an alternative simplifying choice.  The choice reflects and serves polar opposite underlying purposes.  For the classicals, the two dominant  issues were distribution and growth.  They began with an understanding of the uneliminable class conflict between landlords and capitalists, between capitalists and workers.  It was immediately obvious in their models that what went into the pockets of one of the three great classes came out of the pockets of the other two.  They were right about this.  It was also obvious, they thought, that the demand for food would drive up rents, diminishing profits and therefore slowing growth.  It is not so clear that they were right about this.  The concerns of the neo-classicals are different.  They are nicely summarized in this famous definition of economics offered by Lionel Robbins in his classic book, An Essay on  the Nature and Significance of Economic Science:  "Economics is the science which studies human behaviour as the relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses."  This is a definition that obscures the class conflicts that the classicals highlighted.  Now mind, formal models being what they are, anything you can say in one model can, with enough effort, be said in the other, but the classical model does not naturally and easily lead you to the conclusions of the neo-classical models, and vice versa.  That is where ideology enters.

Stevens paragraph four:

"Finally, what does neoclassical economics tell us about the minimum wage? It says that if you impose a minimum wage above the current market rate, then, like anything that goes up in price, you risk causing a drop in demand, meaning, in this case, unemployment. Now, some convincing empirical studies for the US have shown that, in small doses, there is no such effect, or that employment actually appeared to increase after the minimum wage was raised. Neoclassical theory is actually able to accommodate this kind of result—even first year students learn about pure price effects and versus income effects and how the latter can overwhelm the former. But I don't think anyone really disagrees with the prediction that, if the minimum wage were raised, say, to $1,000 per hour, employment would go down. And so really the only point of debate is at what point will it NOT have this effect. My sense is that it is far below what most people would think of as a living wage--particularly for anyone with dependents. But just because neoclassical economics tells us this, it does not mean that this must, necessarily, be the end of the story. We can for example have a guaranteed annual income that "end runs" the market. The theory explains and predicts what will happen in the context of a labour market. We ignore that warning at our peril. But it doesn't mean that we then have to conclude that there is nothing to be done, the poor will always be with us, etc. We just have to look elsewhere for solutions."


Quite true.  Even under socialism, the economic planner s will have to take full account of the consequences of their decisions, and having pure hearts will not allow them to ignore those consequences any more than being free of sin enables me to fly like an angel.


Well, enough response.  Thank you, Wallace Stevens, for a very intelligent and thought-provoking comment, as usual.


As a surprise, I added to the very end of Lecture Three a short video of Pete Seeger singing "Which Side Are You On," an old union song.  Now it seems some people overseas cannot view the video for that reason because of copyright issues.  Who knew?  Should I re-edit the video without the Pete Seeger clip and post it?  I am afraid that would mean that the lecture would end abruptly.  What a downer.  I could leave both versions up, perhaps.

Since we are expecting a blizzard here today, that might be an appropriate task for a snow day.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


OK, folks, Lecture Three in my series on Ideological Critique is now on YouTube.  This one is a good deal longer than the first and second, and has a nice little surprise at the very end.  I am still working on responding to the comments on the first two.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


My first two posted lectures have provoked so many thoughtful comments that I must stop me work on Lecture Four [Three is ready to post] in order to attempt some sort of response.  Here goes, in no particular order.

First, let me just say a heartfelt thank you for the very kind comments.  They mean more to me than you might imagine. 

Now, to work:

Andrew MacDonald said:  "Found the first lecture very interesting. Mannheim's idea that one must go back to the origins in order to understand a thought is interesting (reminiscent of Nietzsche and Foucault). I wonder if we could also say that along with this backwards movement one must also engage in a horizontal movement; relating the thought to the context of significance it inhabits at this particular place and time."

Absolutely.  I hope I conveyed that in my extended Marx example.  I chose the story about my childhood because it struck me as an example people would not immediately think of.  Mannheim's own examples of ideological thinking very often make this "horizontal movement."

Formerly a wage slave said:  "Steve Keen made an argument along the same lines in his "Debunking Economics". That is, he argued that there are articles in mainstream economics journals that undermine most of what's taught (at undergraduate levels) as Economics and also that the same refuted doctrines influence policy. Keen suggests those articles are either ignored by Economists, or it is assumed that the details of the math. is someone else's job. In Ha Joon Chang's remarks about Neo-Classical Economics in his "Economics; a User's Guide" he says something along the lines that it's not the overwhelming evidence on the side of the theory which has made Neo-Classical economics dominant."

I think the situation is a bit worse than this.  Only ideological blindness can explain the fact that professional economists who do indeed know better [as I argued] nevertheless appeal to arguments they know are inapplicable to justify policy positions that serve the interests they consciously or unconsciously serve.  Some of them are just con artists and frauds, but the best of them, I believe, are truly in the grip of an ideology they cannot see for what it is. 

As I have several times observed, Freud says somewhere that if there is one subject one cannot discuss in an analysis, sooner or later the entire analysis comes to be about that one subject.  For economists like Krugman, Marx is that subject.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Now that I have completed Lecture Three, I have a bit of time to respond to some of the very interesting comments posted about Lectures One and Two [I am resisting the temptation to post Lecture Three now, because I see that many more people have viewed Lecture One than have viewed Lecture Two, and I am still hoping some of those first-timers will take a look at number two before I lay number three on them.]

Let me begin with a two-part comment by Enoch Lambert.  Dr. Lambert recently completed his doctorate at Harvard and is now a Postdoctoral Fellow in the UNC Chapel Hill Philosophy Department.  Last semester, he made some very valuable contributions to a little study group I conducted on Rawls' A Theory of Justice.  Here are his comments:

" Let me ask about the third criterion for a claim's ideological status. To whom, and under what conditions, must ideological claims be so obviously false? Must they be so on their face? If they are so obviously false, how can they serve to protect the interests they are designed for?
Part of what makes me wonder is that the claims of the economists you mention, backed as they are with the mathematics you mention, do not seem so obviously false on their face. And I dare say I know a number of people smarter than I am, whose good faith I also have every reason to trust, who are absolutely convinced by their arguments.

[He then continues]  I realized I should have said something stronger and clearer about the folks I mention in my last sentence. It's not just that there's no reason to doubt their good faith. There is good reason to think they are not self-deceived (I'm referring to friends who have been economics majors/grad students). If I have any reason to think that I am not self-deceived about my beliefs in other fields that I have received extensive training in, I don't see why such should not extend to them."

There is a great deal to say about Enoch's comments.  I am going to resist the temptation to talk in very general abstract terms, which is the way ideology is usually discussed.  Instead, I will  give one example.  This is a mathematical example, which will speak to Enoch's remarks.  I could lay it all out in precise mathematical detail, but I fear that would alienate most of my readers, so I shall try to do this math-lite.  If anyone really wants the hairy details, just ask and I shall supply them.

Economists frequently seek to explain, or to justify, the wages and salaries paid to employees of firms and the profit earned by the firm by reference to the "marginal product" of the employee or of the capital invested in the firm.  The intuitive non-mathematical notion is this:  If one holds everything else in a firm constant and hires one more worker, then the change in the firm's output that results can be thought of as the "marginal product" of that employee, the amount at  the margin that the employee adds to the firm's output by working at the firm.  If the employee is paid less than the dollar value of his or her marginal product, then hiring that person has benefitted the firm, because the profit, after subtracting that salary, will have gone up.  If the employee is paid more than the dollar value of his or her marginal product, then his or her employment is hurting the firm, because the profit, after subtracting that salary, will have gone down.

A production function of a firm [or of an entire economy] is a function that relates the set of inputs into production with the maximum output attainable with those inputs.  [This is actually a very complex notion that even economics students frequently do not grasp, but that takes us too far into the weeds.]   Assuming that the production function is continuous [a simply enormous, totally unjustified assumption, by the way], the marginal product of one unit of input at some level of production [either a unit of labor or a unit of some non-labor input] is then the partial derivative of the function at that point [i.e., set of inputs] with regard to the variable representing the input in question.

Still with me?

Enter one of the all-time great mathematicians, Leonhard Euler, an eighteenth century Swiss mathematical genius.  Euler proved a very elegant theorem regarding homogenous functions [never mind.]  A century and more later, economists gave it an economic interpretation.  Suffice it to say that if the production function for the entire economy is linear homogeneous [a special case of homogeneous functions], then it follows that the amount of the income of the economy paid to labor as wages in a free competitive marketplace and the amount of the income of the economy paid to capital as profit exactly mathematically equals the dollar value of the marginal product of labor times the total number of units of labor plus the dollar value of the marginal product of capital times the number of units of capital.  And in this case, any attempt to alter the wages [for example by minimum wage laws] will result in inefficiencies and a reduced total output.  So, mathematics tells us that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds so long as government keeps its grubby hands off wages and profits.

Q. E. D.

Trained economists are forever appealing to this theorem implicitly or explicitly to justify  the inequality in capitalist society.

Except, that their use of the theorem is, to use a technical philosophical term popularized by my old friend Harry Frankfort, bullshit.

It is not hard to prove mathematically that an economy with a linear homogeneous production function is an economy exhibiting constant returns to scale.  It is [same thing, mathematically] an economy in long-run equilibrium.  It is [again, same thing mathematically] an economy with a zero rate of profit [not a zero rate of interest -- that is different.]

Has there ever been a capitalist economy exhibiting constant returns to scale?  Nope.

Has there ever been a capitalist economy in long-run equilibrium with a zero profit rate?  Nope. 

Could there be?  Nope.

How do I know that every professionally trained economist in America knows this?  Because every professionally trained economist in America has taken a graduate course in Microeconomics, and this stuff is part of the standard curriculum.  How do I know this?  Because in 1978 I sat in on the graduate Micro course in the UMass Economics Department.  We used Henderson and Quandt , a standard text then [and still available, Amazon tells me.]

However, this stuff is not taught in standard undergraduate Micro courses, where the professors can con the students into thinking that mathematics has proven Republicans to be right.

Is this just a con, or have the economists drunk their own Kool Aid?  I rather suspect the latter not the former.

Just sayin...



Monday, January 18, 2016


Thank you all for your technical advice.  It worked!!  The third lecture is now ready to be uploaded to YouTube.  I have been planning to upload one lecture each Friday, but maybe I will advance the date a little.  Now I turn to Ethnography and the Kalahari, which I think of as the real heart of these lectures.

When I have recovered from my labors, I shall respond to the several very interesting questions and comments that have been posted.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Does anyone know how to download a YouTube video to one's PC and then include it via MovieMaker in a video one is creating?  I have a nifty idea for Lecture Three, but I cannot solve the technical problems.

Friday, January 15, 2016


OK, folks, Lecture Two on Ideological Critique is now posted on YouTube.  I welcome your responses, questions, cavils, and digressions.  I think I have mastered the technology now.  As for the content, I leave that to your considered judgment.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I am now working on the third Ideological Critique lecture [the second one goes up on YouTube tomorrow.]  In the third lecture, I will talk mostly about Mannheim's astonishing and brilliant analysis of what he calls the Utopian Mentality, in which he actually does an ideological critique of time-consciousness itself.  As a Kant-scholar, I am blown away by this.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


The TV commentators have been obsessed this past day with Obama's final State of the Union speech, which was, after all, just a speech, but the real news was elsewhere.  Two U. S. naval vessels, described as "riverine boats," each with a crew of five, wandered into Iranian territorial waters in the Gulf of Hormuz, apparently as the result of a faulty navigational system.  The boats and their crews were taken into custody by Iranian forces.  After a bit of long-distance discussion between Secretary of State Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, the boats and crews were released in less than twenty-four hours.  That is simply astonishing, a clear indication of the changed relationship between America and Iran in the aftermath of the successful nuclear proliferation talks.  So far as I can to make out, none of the commentators is able to see this little event for what it is.


Having conquered the challenge of filming myself, editing the video, and posting it on YouTube, I felt ready to advance to a higher level of technological sophistication.  Herewith my triumphant report.

I had planned a simple dinner for this evening [I do the cooking in our little household] -- seared raw tuna with a soy, ginger, garlic dipping sauce, petit pois, and a baked potato.  But then it occurred to me that I would be taking my wife to a four p.m. doctor's appointment in Durham, and doctors being what they are, would not return home much before 5:30 p.m., already past our dinner time [that is early, but we get up at 4:30 or 5:00 a.m.]  What to do about the baked potato?

I have been cooking on our stove for eight years now, and have never once even considered timed bake, but with my wife's encouragement, I consulted the manual, and sure enough that is one of its many functionalities.  The instructions were lengthy, and apparently each step must be completed quickly or the oven decides you aren't serious and reverts to its default mode.  I found the "stop time" button, but could not for the life of me find the "start time" button, until it occurred to me that if I told the stove when to turn off and how long to be be on, it could deduce when I wanted it to start -- rather advanced for a stove, I thought.

So, there is now a big baking potato sitting in the oven, which has been instructed to bake it at 400 degrees for an hour and a half [time for the stove to heat up included], and to turn itself off at 5:30 p.m.

When we return from the doctor, either there will be a fully baked potato waiting for us or there will be a cold raw potato in the oven, in which case I shall take my wife out for pizza.


The latest polls show Sanders catching up to or slightly surpassing Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire [always "within the margin of error."  How many TV bloviators could give an accurate explanation of the phase "margin of error," one wonders.]  Before starting serious work on Lecture Three of my YouTube series, therefore, I thought I would take a quick look at the rules governing the Democratic primary process to get some sense of what might happen if Bernie really can close the gap with Clinton nationally.  I note with something approaching incredulity that in national matchups between the Democratic candidates and three or four plausible Republican candidates [Trump, Cruz, Rubio, maybe Christie], Sanders does markedly better than Clinton!  Is that really true?   Be still my heart ...

Well, to the numbers.  There will be 4764 delegates to the Democratic Convention this time around -- many more than to the Republican Convention.  More than half of that number is, at a minimum, 2383, the number needed to win the nomination.  713 of the delegates will be genuinely unpledged -- the so-called "super-delegates."  Therefore a candidate needs 58.8% of the delegates chosen in primaries and caucuses to nail down the nomination prior to the Convention.

In analysing the Republican process, I assumed that Trump would get few if any of the unpledged delegates, but it would, I am convinced, be wrong to suppose that Sanders would get only a handful of those 713.

Clinton still runs well ahead of Sanders among Democrats in national polls, and in a two-person race [forget O'Malley] the leader wins, regardless of the particularity of the rules, save under very odd circumstances.  [Roughly, a candidate could win a majority of the votes and fail to gain the nomination by piling up a national majority through huge wins in a few large states in which he or she was always going to win most of that state's delegates anyway -- but never mind.]

The conventional wisdom, which in this case seems right, is that unless Sanders can dramatically improve his share of Black and Latino Democratic voters, he is toast, regardless of the outcomes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

Can he?  I would be a fool to predict in this chaotic year.   Are there millions of Clinton supporters so weakly attached to her that dramatic early wins by Bernie could pry them loose?  I just do not know.

Should Bernie somehow snatch the nomination from Clinton, he absolutely must get Elizabeth Warren as his running-mate.  A presidential contest between Trump and his Veep choice versus Sanders and Warren would be the greatest political experience of my life.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


In preparation for my third lecture on Ideological Critique, I went to my bookshelf to find a famous passage from Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, and discovered, to my surprise, that my nine volume set of the works of Burke, published in 1803 and obtained by me many years ago second hand, was originally the property of Frances Lady Shelley, who turns out to be Frances Winckley, the wife of the sixth baronet.  Neat!


Several people have responded to my first YouTube lecture with interesting questions, which I shall try to address here.  The one real drawback of this peculiar mode of communication [lecturing to a camera on my desk and then posting the result on YouTube] is that there cannot be any real-time give and take as in a normal lecture.  There is no way I can edit the videos to incorporate my responses, so anyone who watches the video next month, or next year, or -- God help us -- next century will have no way of knowing how I have responded.  Oh well.

"Michael writes:  I look forward to your lecture! I have two questions, one logistical, one a bit more complicated. 
1) What chapters of Mannheim's work do you suggest we have read before the lecture?
2) I'm curious about Mannheim's understanding of the utopian point of view. He specifically links it to the thinking of oppressed groups, stating that the focus on the alleviation of one particular issue makes it more difficult for them to see the world as it is. As stated, this seems possibly true--anyone who thinks that if, say, racism would go away all the political problems in the world would be gone hasn't looked closely at other modes of oppression, for example. But this seems like it would contest the premises of something like standpoint theory, which states that those who belong to oppressed groups are best suited to understand their oppression. Would Mannheim reject such a view? It seems like it would go against his sympathies, but he does seem to be privileging a certain kind of observer. (At this point I should probably note that I've only read the first chapter, so this may be cleared up later.)"

As to chapters:  For the second lecture [being posted this Friday], Chapter Two.  For the third [and final] lecture on Mannheim, Chapter Four.  There is a great deal else in the book which I shall not talk about, needless to say.
Now, as for standpoint theory -- this is a large question.  The short answer is that what Mannheim says is really incompatible with standpoint theory, which was, I believe, developed long after he wrote.  His analysis is quite incompatible with the view that any social group has a privileged access to insight into the real nature of social reality.  Mannheim's discussion of total ideologies [weltanschauungen] makes that clear, I think.

Now, this does not settle the matter, it just situates Mannheim in that debate.  I think it is clear that oppressed groups can achieve an ironic understanding of their social situation [think of women, or African-American slaves, for example] that is demonstrably superior to the understanding of their oppressors, but Mannheim would insist, with some justification, I think, that nevertheless their understanding is shaped by [distorted by?] their interested perspective.

I think I need to mull this over some more.  A very good question.
Wallace Stevens said:  "I also enjoyed Lecture I.  One point that you made got my attention in particular, although I may have misunderstood it, or mis-remembered. (I was eating my lunch and not able to take notes at the time!) You seem to say, or to agree with Mannheim, that there is a marked difference between academic discourse and political discourse: that the former follows rules of fact, evidence and logic, which all sides to a question respect, however heated the argument, while the latter uses arguments of various kinds to "unmask" and, by so doing, discredit the other party. I hope I have got this right. If so, what occurred to me was that, while this relatively civilised state of affairs may exist in math and engineering--2 + 2 can't be 5 just because we wish it were so--my experience in the social sciences is quite different. For example, the neoclassical economists think the Marxists are talking nonsense and the Marxists repay the compliment! Both accuse the other of being "ideological"--i.e., refusing, due to the fog of dogma, to see or admit to what is "really" going on.  Now, I'm sure I'm not pointing out anything that you haven't already noticed yourself many times over. So could you perhaps clarify or provide further comment on the distinction between academic/political discourse. It seems to be a key concept and I feel that I, at least, have missed something."

This observation illustrates perfectly the drawbacks of the video/YouTube format.  Wallace Stevens is of course perfectly correct.  In my lecture, I was trying to capture Mannheim's perspective from the 1930's, but I spoke in a way that suggested I was describing present-day debates.  Had this all taken place face to face, he would have raised his question and I would have clarified my remarks before continuing.  My  apologies for the unclarity.

We are so accustomed now to debates that are overtly and unabashedly ideological that it is difficult to capture Mannheim's sense of things eighty years ago.  It is fascinating to me to read today what liberal economists like Paul Krugman write and watch them castigating their conservative opponents for willful ideologically motivated distortions and denials of reality while all the while exhibiting a complete incapacity to subject their own opinions to the same sort of penetrating critique.  I tried to say something about that in my second lecture [coming up this Friday.]

I thank both of you for sharp and interesting questions.  Keep them coming!

Monday, January 11, 2016


Well, folks, I have delivered Lecture Two on Ideological Critique to my camcorder [which no doubt found it very engaging].  The video has been transferred to my computer, edited, and converted to a format suitable for YouTube [a tedious process].  This coming Friday I shall upload it to YouTube for a world not quite crying out for it.

I thank all of you who have watched Lecture One.  YouTube says there have been 302 views thus far, but of course that may be one person who has come back 301 times.  One never knows.

Without students in the room, I seem to chew through material rather rapidly, so the third lecture will complete my discusion of Mannheim, after which I shall move on to the Kalahari and Wilmsen's ideological critique of ethnology.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Politico, not a source I usually go to for news or analysis, has a long and very interesting piece on the countless important achievements of Obama's two terms as president.  It is worth reading.  I pay pretty close attention to public affairs, and I was, I confess, unaware of just how much has been accomplished in the past seven years. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016


I checked YouTube and found that the video of my first lecture had drawn 138 views by 3 p.m. today.  I was elated.  Then I noticed that videos of my old UMass Marxist economist colleague Richard Wolff doing his monthly reports on the economy were drawing 40,000 or 50,000 views each.  I was depressed. 

But I bethought myself of the lovely old [1991] Gerard Depardieu movie Tous les Matins du Monde, and was comforted.  The movie tells the story of a great musician, the viola da gamba player St. Colombe, who retires to the countryside with his two daughters and spends his time in isolation perfecting his art and striving to raise the playing of the viola da gamba to previously unattained heights of pure musical beauty.  The young, eager, ambitious Marin Marais [Depardieu, played as a young man by Depardieu's son] shows up hoping to be taken on as a pupil by St. Colombe.  Marin Marais flourishes, makes his way at court, and becomes the king's favorite musician, but he does so by selling his soul.  St. Colombe continues in isolation, seeking musical perfection.

Now, all of this is wildly unfair to Rick Wolff, of course, who is merely vastly more popular than I, not less pure.  Indeed, if anything, Rick is a more plausible candidate as keeper of the flame than I.  And 138 views in twenty-four hours is not bad,  After all, I would have been happy during my active teaching career to draw a fourth that many students to a course on Ideological Critique.

And yet.

The Cloud is a stern mistress.