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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, September 30, 2018


Inasmuch as I cannot think of anything else, I will speculate on the possible outcomes of the Kavanaugh affair.   Let us be clear: at this point all the matters in the short run is three votes in the Senate:  Manchin, Collins, Murkowsky [I assume Flake will vote yes in the end, unless something turns up that derails the entire matter.]

With that said, what are the short term and long term possibilities?

1.         Mark Judge caves to the FBI and say that the event described by Ford occurred pretty much as she described it.  If Judge does that, I predict that in his version of the event he is trying successfully to stop Kavanaugh, not abetting him.  If Judge rats Kavanaugh out, I would expect Kavanaugh to get wind of the news and withdraw his name from nomination before any thing comes out, angrily accusing the world of destroying his life, his family, and his reputation.  Behind the scenes he cuts a deal with McConnell that he will withdraw and save the Republicans the political carnage of a floor vote on condition that he keep his seat on the DC Circuit.  I think this is a possibility, on which I can put no estimate of likelihood.

2.         The FBI turns up all manner of slimy stuff, but nothing definitive.  Then Murkowsky probably votes no, but Collins?  She is between a rock and a hard place [assuming, as I do, that she has no actual conscience whatsoever.]  I do not think she can get re-elected in 2020 if she votes yes, but she will be primaried if she votes no.  Her best chance may be to vote no and appeal to Maine Democrats to vote for her in the primary.  She will make a cold eyed decision.  If she votes no, so will Manchin.  If she votes yes, Manchin will be free to vote yes, because the nomination will go through regardless of how he votes.  Once again, I cannot estimate the probabilities.

3.         The nomination goes through.  Kavanaugh immediately takes his seat on the High Court, making his SCOTUS colleagues right and left intensely uncomfortable behind their bland exteriors.  At this point, I predict, we will see something truly unprecedented.  After Kavanaugh is seated, a series of new allegations will surface.  Large numbers of people who have known Kavanaugh, both men and women, will tell credible stories about his appalling behavior not just during his prep school and early college days but later in his life as well.  I am absolutely sure such behavior exists and will come out.  The news media will not “move on.”  Remember, Kavanaugh will join the court the day after the vote, which means four weeks before the election.  He will be the poster child for Democratic candidates campaigning for everything from Governor and Senator to City Council and Dog Catcher.  This will not die away.  Impeaching and removing a Supreme Court Justice is a non-starter.  Can Kavanaugh stand the heat?  I do not know.  Perhaps he and Thomas will form a small support group for Supreme Court sexual abusers.

As the old Chinese curse has it, may you live in interesting times.

Saturday, September 29, 2018


LFC makes three brief but interesting comments on my piece about Kavanaugh’s presentation and what it reveals about him.  Here is the first:  “I agree w/ certain aspects of the post but I think it's somewhat hazardous to engage in this sort of psychoanalysis-at-a-distance of someone one 'knows' only as filtered through the media reports about his life or through his televised testimony. Hazardous, but not necessarily completely groundless.”

I want to take a moment to push back against the tendency to discount or discourage evaluations of the motives and personalities of others as “armchair psychoanalysis” and hence unwise.  [By the way, since psychoanalysts, in my experience, always sit in armchairs, we need some other phrase of disparagement.]  As anyone will know who has watched my video lectures on Freud, I insist on the impossibility, even for Freud, of engaging in psychoanalysis at a distance, as it were, so let that be understood as given in what I am now going to say.

Human beings [and many other mammals, as it happens] are constantly observing others, forming judgments about their motivations and probable future behavior, and adjusting what they think and do accordingly.  Let me give you several familiar examples.

Every time we get in a car and drive, we engage in on-going observations of and judgments about the other persons driving on the same roads.  When I drive from my home to the entry to the nearby Interstate, on my way to RDU airport, there is a stretch of two lane country road on which people routinely drive 50 or 60 miles an hour.  That means that the cars in the opposite lane and I are approaching one another at between 100 and 120 mph.  My survival depends on making snap judgments about the reliability and probable behavior of people I do not know and will never meet.

When I walk on a busy street in midtown Manhattan, I am walking alongside or counter to people very close to me, and I must make a series of judgments about their probable next steps if I am to avoid bumping into them.  At the same time, I am alert to any walkers whose behavior deviates from the norm in ways suggesting that they are mentally disturbed or potentially dangerous.  [I am old enough to recall when someone speaking loudly to no one at all was a sure tell.  Now, they are probably on their cellphones.  It took me a while to adjust to the new reality.]  It is of course not just human beings who engage in this sort of ongoing interpretation.  As I fanatic viewer of nature shows on TV, I am aware that predators like lions and cheetahs will observe a herd of Impala or Wildebeest and instantly spot the one animal whose slightly abnormal behavior is a sign that it might be injured and hence easier to kill.

When young people go to Singles bars [I am told], they acutely observe their fellow patrons looking for signs that someone might be receptive to a come-on.

And so forth.  Interpreting the behavior and divining the motivations of other people is one the principal things we humans do, and natural selection has made us really good at it.  So when I observe a wildly deviant bit of behavior like Kavanaugh’s Judiciary Committee testimony, and draw from it conclusions about his character and motivations, I am not engaging in armchair psychoanalysis.  I am simply engaging in the oldest human activity: people watching.


By the time I had returned home from New York on Wednesday, posted my two course handouts, and recovered a bit from the rigors of the trip, it was Thursday morning.  I spent an entire day riveted by the Judiciary Committee hearings, posted my analysis of Kavanaugh’s testimony, and then was caught up in the drama yesterday that led to the one week postponement of the floor vote and the order for a “limited” FBI investigation.  Only now am I able to attend to and partially respond to the flood of comments posted on this blog.

Let me begin by saying just a word or two about the motivation for the post concerning linear homogeneous functions, which may provide a context that was missing from the document itself.

The title of the course is Mystifications of Social Reality.  The first mystification is the misrepresentation of capitalism designed to conceal the fundamental fact that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  The Classical mystification, or ideological rationalization, consisted in presenting the worker as a petit bourgeois commodity producer whose commodity, labor power, he or she brings to a free, open, fair, uncoerced market, where, like all other commodities, it is exchanged at a price proportional to its value.  With the proceeds from their commodity, proceeds which are conventionally called the wage, workers purchase new inputs into their productive activities, which is to say food, clothing, and shelter.  The central aim of Capital, as I explained in my first three lectures, is to demystify capitalism and expose this rationalization as false.

In the 1870’s, the decade after Capital appeared, mainstream economic theory underwent a “triple revolution,” carried out more or less independently by Stanley Jevons, Leon Walras, and Karl Menger, in the wake of which there emerged modern Marginalist economic theory.  Modern Economics has a different ideological mystification of capitalism, but with the same purpose of concealing the fact that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  According to the new mystification, Capital and Labor work cooperatively to produce the social product, each one [in ideal circumstances] paid its marginal product, called respectively profits or wages.  The mathematical framework for this new ideological rationalization is provided by Leonhardt Euler’s theorem concerning homogeneous functions.

Hence the handout.

There is obviously much more to be said about the mystifications of modern Economics [I said a bit about indifference curves], but I had other fish to fry in that lecture and did not linger.

I hope this helps makes sense of what I posted.

Friday, September 28, 2018


I spent most of yesterday watching the Judiciary Committee hearings, and in this post, I am going to try to make sense of them.  What follows is my amateur opinion.  It differs from everything I have heard and read about the hearing, so it may be of interest.

First of all, I believe Christine Blasey Ford’s account.  I am certain that she suffered the experience she described, and I am certain that she is not mistaken about the identity of the two persons in the room.  If you reject these judgments, then you will probably prefer to navigate to some other blog.

Well, do I think then that Brett Kavanaugh is lying?  The reality, I suggest, is a great deal more complex, and it will take me a while to explain.  The keys to understanding the truth lie in Kavanaugh’s testimony, in its words, but also in his self-presentation.  To keep this reasonably short, I am going to simply state my conclusions without extended background justifications.  Take them for what they are worth.

Brett Kavanaugh was born into an extremely conventional upper middle-class Catholic family, and as a boy he was under enormous parental pressure to be a Good Boy.  This meant being polite to adults, embracing sports, mobilizing his considerable psychic energy and his considerable intelligence to do well, as that is conventionally understood, in school.  He went to Church regularly, as regularly, to quote his testimony, as brushing his teeth.  He palled around with boys and girls in happy, cheerful Leave it To Beaver style, systematically denying his sexuality in ways that were deeply painful.  His every action was a public performance, an affirmation of the part of him that would garner praise from parents, teachers, coaches, and priests.  He was a Good Boy.

This is, psychodynamically, a volatile mixture.  Kavanaugh was constantly under extreme pressure to repress his sexual [and also aggressive] urges.  His reward for this painful pressure was praise, approval, high grades, and all the other overt public rewards that his social milieu had to offer.

Kavanaugh was hardly alone in this set of circumstances, needless to say, nor are they peculiar to young Catholics, although the particular form they take does have religious, ethnic, and economic roots.  This is, after all, the stuff of a hundred, nay a thousand, American novels.

Kavanaugh drank beer.  As he said repeatedly in his testimony, he drank beer, he liked beer, he still likes beer.  It is not at all an accident that it is beer, not hard liquor, that he drank.  He was not a solitary drinker [this is an absolutely crucial point, as we shall see.]  He drank beer with his buddies, his male friends.  When he drank, he experienced a momentary relief from the crushing psychic repression that defined his emotional makeup.  When he drank, his sexual and aggressive urges achieved some expression.  And under the influence of beer, which he regularly drank to excess, he became belligerent, sexually aggressive toward women.

But it is a striking and enormously significant fact that he became belligerent and sexually aggressive toward women in the presence of other men.  Indeed, his drunken behavior was as much a performance for the benefit of those men as it was an expression of any sort of desire for the women.  Listen closely to the astonishingly accurate, revealing, and precise testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.  Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, she tells us, were laughing uproariously as Brett assaulted her.  They were laughing with each other, having a good time with each other. 

Compare this with what we know of many of the sexual predators who have been called to account by the #MeToo Movement.  Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and all the rest.  They committed their assaults in private, and the focus of their acts was their sexual victim.

Not Brett Kavanaugh.  In a Fox News interview, and then in his Senate testimony, Kavanaugh says he was a virgin in High School and for some years thereafter.  He was a Good Boy.  I believe him.  I do not think he was actually trying to rape Christine Blasey in that room, and if by some accident he had managed to rip her clothes off, I think it is entirely possible that he would not have known quite what to do next.  He and Mark Judge were laughing with each other, having a good time with each other.

The accounts of Kavanaugh’s Freshman Yale roommate and of other victims make it clear that, as we would expect, he did not change his basic psychological makeup when he graduated from prep school. 

Brett Kavanaugh is a Good Boy.  He has done everything that was demanded of him as a boy, and has been spectacularly successful.  Now, the entire enormously painful psychologically demanding series of inner repressions and compromises on which his entire life has been built is being called into question by the public revelation of that repressed side, that back side, that hidden side of his psyche.  His testimony yesterday was a desperate, impassioned, terrified cry:  I AM A GOOD BOY.  To deny him the Supreme Court seat is to tell him that those sacrifices, repressions, and denials were for naught. 

Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth.  But so was Brett Kavanaugh.  Not about the actual incident.  He was telling the truth as he genuinely believes it.  He is a Good Boy.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


A homogeneous function is a function in which the sum of the exponents of the variables in each term is the same.

For example:                 f(x,y,z) = 4xyz + 1/2x2y - .72z3 

is a homogeneous          function of order 3, because it is equivalent to

                                       4xyz + 1/2x2yz0 – .72x0y0z3 

                                                And (1 + 1 + 1) = (2 + 1 + 0) = (0 + 0 + 3) = 3

A homogeneous function in which the sum of the exponents        of the variables is 1 is called a linear homogeneous function.

Euler proved a theorem about the first partial derivatives of homogeneous functions.   For linear homogeneous functions, and in particular for the example above, the theorem states that:

the value of the function f at a point  f0(x0,y0,z0) is equal to the sum of each first partial derivative multiplied by the value of the variable at that point.  In symbols:

                             f(x0,y0,z0)  =  δf/δx(x0) + δf/δy(y0) + δf/δz(z0)

Now for the payoff.

Suppose there is a production function for an economy in which the two variables are Capital and Labor [measured how?  Ah, that is a very big question and another story.]   Let us represent the function as

f = f(K,L)

 where K stands for capital and L stands for Labor.

The partial derivative of f with respect to Capital, or K, can be interpreted as the increase in the value of the production function of the society if Labor is held constant and one unit of Capital is added.  In short, it can be interpreted as the marginal product of Capital.  Similarly for Labor.

Now, suppose that each unit of Capital is paid a profit equal to its Marginal Product and each unit of Labor [one hour, one employee, whatever] is paid a wage equal to its [his/her] Marginal Product. 




Never mind the various definitional problems, which are huge.  The question is:  Does the US economy have a linear homogeneous production function?

Well, an economy with a linear homogeneous production function can be shown to have three properties that follow mathematically from that assumption:

1.       The economy exhibits constant returns to scale
2.       The economy is in long run equilibrium
3.       The economy has a zero rate of profit.

Hmm.  Does that describe the US economy?  Does it describe any capitalist economy?  No.





I am home from my fourth trip to teach at Columbia, and it is beginning to feel comfortingly usual.  The waiter in the food court of Terminal C at LaGuardia has learned of my fondness for pancakes and greets me like a regular.

Needless to say, I have been mesmerized by l’affaire Kavanaugh and await the Senate testimony in an hour with anticipation.  Speaking as an amateur observer, it does not surprise me at all that a man might be both a serious scholar, athlete, church goer, and professed teenage virgin and also a mean drunken sexual abuser.

However, be that as it may, I thought I would post the two handouts I prepared for my class and distributed on Tuesday.  Since my first stint is now ended, and Todd Gitlin picks up the mantle next week, I prepared for my students a list of my writings on Marx, both published and unpublished, should they decide they could not get enough of me.  This is the first handout:

Robert Paul Wolff
Published and Unpublished Writings on Marx

I.          Books

1985:   UNDERSTANDING MARX: A Reconstruction and Critique of CAPITAL, Hardcover and Paperback Edi­tions, Princeton University Press.

1988:   MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY: On The Literary Structure Of CAPITAL, Hardcover and Paperback Editions, University of Massachusetts Press.

II.        Journal Articles

"How to Read DAS KAPITAL, MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW, Winter, 1980, 739‑765.

"A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value, PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC AF­FAIRS, Spring, 1981, 89‑120.

"Piero Sraffa and the Rehabilitation of Classical Political Economy," SOCIAL RESEARCH, Spring, 1982, 209‑238.

Translated as "Piero Sraffa e la riabilitazione dell'economia classica," COMMUNITA, Novembre, 1983, 78‑101.

"The Analytics of the Labor Theory of Value in David Ricardo and Adam Smith," MIDWEST STUDIES IN PHILOSOPHY, 1982, 301‑319.

"A Reply to Roemer," PHILOSOPHY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, Winter, 1983, 84‑88.

"The Rehabilitation of Karl Marx," JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, 1983, 713‑719.

"A Reply to Professor Schweickart," CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, September, 1984, 369‑374.

"The Resurrection of Karl Marx, Political Economist," SOCIAL RESEARCH, 1986, 475‑512.

"Absolute Fruit and Abstract Labor; Remarks on Marx's Use of the Concept of Inversion," in KNOWLEDGE AND POLITICS: Case Studies in the Relationship Between Epistemology and Political Philosophy, edited by Marcelo Dascal and Ora Gruengard, Westview Press, 1989, 171‑187.

"Methodological Individualism and Marx: Some Remarks on Jon Elster, Game Theory, and Other Things," CANADIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, Vol. 20, Number 4 [Dec., 1990], 469‑486.

III.       Unpublished Papers Archived on [accessible via link on Wolff’s blog, The Philosopher’s Stone.]

Marx Working paper
A Unified Reading of Marx
The Future of Socialism
The Thought of Karl Marx
The Study of Society


Monday, September 24, 2018


There is something that has puzzled me for quite some time, and perhaps a reader with genuine legal knowledge can help me out.  It is established that the Trump campaign was approached with the offer of material from the Russian government detrimental to Hillary Clinton and her campaign, and that senior members of the campaign, including the campaign chair, agreed to meet for the purpose of discussing this offer.

Leave aside everything else, including whether the Russians actually possessed such material.  Why are those facts, as they stand, not evidence of a conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign to affect the election?


And so the evidence emerges of other Kavanaugh incidents, just as I [and the rest of the civilized world] predicted.  It is really worth reading this New Yorker story by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow.  It seems that Kavanaugh's drunken and sexually aggressive behavior was well known to fellow Yalies and was the topic of contemporaneous email chatter.

Hardly a surprise.

Now the always eager Michael Avenatti announces that he has, as a client, yet a third woman with a Kavanaugh story to tell.

I think we may yet defeat Kavanaugh.  Whether McConnell can railroad through a substitute nominee before the new Congress is sworn in remains to be seen, but if he cannot, and if the Democrats can retake the Senate, then Chief Justice Roberts can preside over an eight-person court until 2020.

Fair is fair.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Read this.  The world is unspeakable.


Once again, I found a five hour stint driving to the meetup place, canvassing, and driving home very tiring, but it was well worth it.  The candidate himself was there to start us off, as well as his mother, and his grade school teacher.  All politics is local.  Six weeks to go.

Meanwhile, I am beginning to believe that Kavanaugh will not make it to the High Court.  If we can take back the Senate, we can hold the seat open for two years until the 2020 election.

This is beginning to feel like the Sixties.  Social and political forces are moving underneath us in ways that are hard to predict.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


I am off in a ninety minutes to spend five hours canvassing for Ryan Watts here in the NC 6th.  Actually, the canvassing will only take three hours, but I live at the eastern end of the 6th and we are doing our door-to-door in Greensboro, at the western end, so it will take me an hour to get  there and an hour to get home.

Meanwhile, all hell is breaking loose at the national level.  I think if Dr. Blasey Ford testifies on camera, Kavanaugh will go down.  As for Rosenstein, the fact that Trump has not summarily fired him says a good deal about how vulnerable Trump is.

With all of this going on, I am preparing to lecture on Tuesday about the ideological significance of linear homogeneous functions.  How weird is that?

Friday, September 21, 2018


Enough of court packing fantasies.  Let me try to think through the probable consequences of Brett Kavanagh’s confirmation.

Very quickly after that confirmation, a case would come before the High Court that would result either in the overturning of Roe v. Wade or in a restriction of its application so severe as to constitute de facto reversal.  [At this point I proceed without any real legal knowledge, so the reader should be wary of my conclusions.]   This would not make abortion illegal in the United States.  It would simply leave in place and once again in force existing state anti-abortion laws.  In many states, encompassing, I believe, a majority of the population, abortion would be legal.  There would be some pro-abortion states [Massachusetts?] in which anti-abortion laws that had never been reversed but had simply been overruled by Roe would suddenly once again become state law, and would have to be removed by state legislative action.  There would be anti-abortion states where laws designed to make abortion impossibly difficult to obtain would be replaced by outright prohibitions.  The issue of abortion would become the determinative factor in struggles for control of state legislatures.  There would be an attempt in Congress to pass a federal prohibition on abortion, and although it would be expected to be upheld by the Supreme Court, it would, I believe, fail to get the necessary votes.

Thus on the issue of abortion, America would become two nations under one flag.

But that would not be the end of it.  Middle class and upper middle class women in anti-abortion states desiring an abortion would have the option of traveling to abortion-legal states, where they could obtain an abortion safely, legally, and privately from a health clinic.  This would of course include the wives and daughters of publicly anti-abortion male politicians.  The overturning of Roe would affect most immediately the tens of millions of women whose economic circumstances made such private medical trips prohibitive or whose understanding of the medical realities and available options was limited by their education and the nature of their medical care and insurance.

This would be a cruel, hypocritical, and in my judgment unsustainable state of affairs.  But I think it is almost certainly the state of affairs we would see come to pass if Kavanagh were confirmed.

Will he be confirmed?  I don’t know.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


If Kavanagh is confirmed, the political fallout may cost the Republicans some House seats, and even control of the Senate.  But the possible consequences, not only for reproductive rights but also for the environment and any hope of a rebirth of unions would likely be catastrophic, for a good deal longer than I for one can hope to live.

There is an alternative, other than the States' Rights option discussed here a while back.  A simple majority in both houses plus the presidency is sufficient to alter the size of the court.  Congress has done this six or seven times in the past, although not in the 20th or 21st centuries.

The time has come to think about serious steps, of the sort that senior Democrats are quite obviously unwilling to consider.


A friend tells me reliably that Winnie the Pooh has been banned in China.  It seems someone noticed a resemblance between President Xi Jinping and the lovable bear and posted several comparison pictures online, which went viral.  This fundamentally changes my view of the Chinese government.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


I have just learned, from David Auerbach, that Sylvain Bromberger has died.  Sylvain was an old, old friend from my Harvard graduate school days, and we were then briefly colleagues at the University of Chicago from 1961-63.  He spent most of his career at MIT.  Not too long ago, when I gave a talk at MIT, we reconnected briefly.  I have lovely memories of Sylvain, who was universally not only admired for his intelligence but loved as a human being.  A little later on, I will write something of my memories of him.  Sylvain was 94 when he passed away.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Donald Trump has a great deal of money.  This has enabled him to give Don Jr. a good life, even though young Trump is clearly brain-damaged.  But couldn't the father have at least found an orthodontist who could do something about those front teeth?


Yesterday, a quiet Sunday, hits on this blog went from their usual roughly 1000-1200 a day to 10,280!  Does anyone know what happened?  Is my secret name Christine Blasey Ford?


1.  Brett Kavanagh did in fact do, as a seventeen year old prep school student, what he is accused of having done.

2.  He did not do this sort of thing just once.  Men who do this do it again.

3.  Sooner or later, another woman will surface with her story.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the matter.  We shall see.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


There has been extended comment here concerning Marx's Labor Theory of Value.  This is a subject on which I have written extensively over many years, and I am not going to repeat myself here, but interested readers who are prepared to deal with some serious mathematics are invited to follow the link at  the top of this blog to and there to find my paper, "A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value."  Those somewhat put off by math can read Understanding Marx for a primer.

By the way, Marx's claim that there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall has been refuted mathematically, first by Okishio and then by Sam Bowles.

If I may summarize twenty years of work in a sentence, Marx was right that Capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class but wrong that the key to proving this is the distinction between labor and labor power.


The journalist David Leonhardt has this Op Ed in the NY TIMES this morning.  It is, I think, one of the most important and insightful pieces I have read in a very long time.  Here is just one fact cited by Leonhardt that stood out for me.  The official unemployment rate in the United States is currently just below 4%.  But the percentage of men age 25-54 who are not employed is slightly below 15%.

Think about that fact.  In an economy as close to official full employment as you are ever likely to see, 15% of adult men in prime wage earning years are unemployed, and two thirds of them do not even show up in the topline unemployment figures because they have simply given up looking for work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics experts know this, of course.  Their work is the source of the figures Leonhardt cites.  But virtually none of the public discussions of economic affairs mention these figures, nor do these facts play any role in policy debates in Washington.

Why don't these men [and women, of course] show up in the official unemployment figures?  Because those figures are generated by monthly household sampling conducted by the BLS, whose employees ask, as they go door to door, "Are you now employed full time or part time?  If you are not employed, have you looked for work in the last month [or, in some surveys, two months]?"

If the answer to the first question is "no" and to the second question is "yes," the person is counted as unemployed.  But if the answer to both questions is "no," the person is not counted.  That person is considered not to be in the labor force.

If you think about this simple set of facts for a moment, much of contemporary politics makes much more sense.


Some of you may recall Whiplash, a 2014 movie about a brutally demanding music instructor and a promising young drummer.  The movie won an Oscar for J. K. Simmons, an old, familiar character actor who plays the instructor.  Currently, the Farmers Insurance Company is running a series of ads featuring Simmons, with the tagline, “We know a thing or two, because we’ve seen a thing or two.” 

One of Farmers’ competitors is Progressive Insurance, famous in the ad world for a series of commercials featuring Flo, a character played in countless ads by actress Stephanie Courtney.  Flo has become as famous as the GEICO gecko, a cartoon character with a Cockney accent advertising yet a third insurance company.

In the most recent Progressive Insurance ad, a group of salespeople are rehearsing a commercial song under the direction of a choral conductor who, in a brilliant bit of interior homage, imitates the character played by J. K. Simmons in Whiplash.

The idea of doing an advert sendup of the character played in the movies by the actor now making competing ads is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant.  I have no idea who in the ad company working for Progressive had the idea, but he or she should get a Clio [the ad world’s Oscar.]

How can I be so sure the ad was the idea of a single ad writer, and not the product of a committee?  Because it is a really good idea, and I know a thing or two about really good ideas because I’ve had a really good idea or two.

Friday, September 14, 2018


As you can imagine, much of my attention is focused on the progress of the hurricane that is now swamping the coastal regions of North Carolina.  We should be in no danger here, but the rain will be very heavy, and I am hoping I can fly out next Tuesday to teach my Columbia class.

At the start of my last lecture, before launching into my discussion of Marx’s analysis of the mystifications of capitalism, which involved, among other things, an extended contrast between a Catholic church and a supermarket, I suggested to the students that for their mid-semester essay, they might consider attempting a demystification of their experiences as Columbia undergraduates.

I have gathered some data that I shall present to them next Tuesday, by way of assistance, should they choose that topic to write on.  [Yes, I realize some of them may be reading this blog.  Such is life.]

Here are the facts I gathered.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the great Columbia student uprising, which occurred while I was teaching there.  In 1968, Columbia tuition was $1900 a year.  Using an online Consumer Price Index calculator, which I shall introduce them to, I find that $1900 in 1968 is the equivalent of $13,650 in 2018.

In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60/hr.  If a student worked all summer, for 16 weeks, 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job, he [there were no female Columbia undergraduates then] could earn $1024.  With a term time part-time job, fifteen hours a week, he could make another $768.  In short, it was possible in 1968, albeit hard, to work your way through Columbia and graduate without a burden of student debt.

But Columbia tuition is not currently $13,650.  It was, last year, $57,208.  If a student were to find a $10/hr job, above minimum wage, he or she [big improvement] would have to work 5,720 hours to earn tuition for the year, or 110 hours a week year round, clearly impossible.

Two important data points:  First, the Columbia education in 1968 was quite as good as the Columbia education in 2018.  Second, faculty salaries have risen only slightly faster than inflation – in 1968, I was a senior professor making $19,000/yr, which in 2018 dollars is $136,500, and although that is probably low for a senior professor’s salary today, it is not very low.

So:  Here are three facts to demystify:

1.         You could work your way through Columbia without student debt in 1968, but not in 2018.

2.         The education has not gotten noticeably better in fifty years.

3.         The professors are not paid dramatically more in constant dollars.

Question:  How come?

Hint:  In 1968, the students seized the administration building.  In 2018, 30% of graduating seniors go into investment banking.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Another trip to New York to teach at Columbia.  Once again, I stayed over at Union Theological Seminary.  [No jokes, please.  They have cheap barebones rooms a block from the campus.]  Needless to say, I monitored the hurricane, and continue to do so.  We will get, at the very least, an enormous amount of rain.  

I am beginning to get the feel of this gig.  It does not feel like a trip so much as a commute.  Eleven more classes, reaching into December.

Meanwhile, this Saturday’s door to door canvassing for Ryan Watts has been postponed, thanks to the impending hurricane.  I shall post so long as there is power.

Monday, September 10, 2018


This morning I came across this essay, by Patricia Roberts Miller of UC Berkeley, on the identity of the author of the NY TIMES anonymous Op Ed.  I recommend it.

Sunday, September 9, 2018


I have been blogging for somewhat more than nine years, during which time I have written a staggering number of words for The Philosopher’s Stone.  When I began, I was a youthful seventy-five, recently retired after half a century of teaching.  Now I am a mature eighty-four, launching a new career as a Peripatetic Philosopher and wondering whether I will make it to the century mark.  Recently, this blog seems to have reached beyond lift-off to a sustainable orbit.  The comments section is filled with essay-length contributions even when I am away.  I feel like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein who, after pounding on the breast of the monster and shooting it with repeated electric shocks, finally cries out exultantly: It’s alive!”

I shall probably write fewer lengthy posts during the time that I am teaching at Columbia, not merely because of the need to prepare but also because the class gives me an opportunity for expression that has for the past decade been provided by this blog. 

Not to worry.  You cannot keep a garrulous old codger quiet.

Now, anybody have a clue who wrote the anonymous Op Ed?

Saturday, September 8, 2018


Everyone who has been paying any attention to American politics is aware of the discussions that have sprung about concerning the feasibility of removing Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.  It is obviously never going to happen, but I would like to explain why I think it would be a very bad idea.  Trump is obviously not incapacitated.  He has not had a stroke or a major heart attack.  He is quite capable of playing a round of golf or giving a [rambling] ninety minute public speech.  He is not in a persistent vegetative state.  He is not in a more severe stage of dementia than Ronald Reagan was.  He is just an ignorant, impulsive narcissistic bully utterly incapable of performing the normal functions of an American president.

Why then am I opposed to invoking the 25th Amendment?  Quite simply, because if the Vice President, the cabinet, and Congress were to reverse the express choice of the American voters in that fashion, I think it is absolutely certain that there would be an irresistible push to do the same thing to a genuinely radical President, were one ever by some miracle to gain the White House, regardless of his or her personality traits.  Indeed, the policies of such a President would be taken as evidence of his or her instability.

President Obama had it exactly right in his maiden political speech yesterday.  The most effective check on Trump’s craziness is the vote, not the 25th Amendment.  Four years ago, as he noted, only 20% of eligible young people voted in the midterm elections – Twenty percent!  One in five!  [Actually, he was rounding up for emphasis.  The figure was 19%]

If some of those rolling their eyes and hashing their tags at Trump would just pause in their tweeting and snapchatting long enough to go to the polls and vote, we could start to turn this country around.

Friday, September 7, 2018


I am living in two worlds, and it is disorienting.  My mind is entirely absorbed by preparations for my Columbia class.  On Tuesday I begin what will be three classes – six hours – devoted to explicating the first ten chapters of Capital.  On my morning walks, I deliver little interior lectures, organizing my thoughts in a coherent narrative that weaves together literary theory, economic theory, English history, and ideological critique in a seamless, comprehensible series of lectures.  As I work in my head, I am oblivious of the world around me, and despite the dramatic nature of the material I am explicating, I am at peace with myself.

At the same time, the world is exploding.  I am so furious about the confirmation of Kavanagh that I can scarcely contain myself.  I hang on the responses to the anonymous NY TIMES Op Ed.  I watch Kamal Harris and Corey Booker light into Kavanagh, positioning themselves for the 2020 presidential race.  And of course, I kvell as Serena Williams blasts her way to the finals of the U. S. Open.

The New York trip was a greater physical effort for me than I anticipated.  It is clear that I shall need a day or two to recover after each expedition.  I suppose at eighty-four I should have been prepared.  Todd, a youthful whippersnapper in his late seventies, is off to Mexico, having returned from Chile in time for our class.  Ah, youth.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


Despite the best efforts of the Columbia bureaucracy, the first meeting of the course was a rave success.  This is going to be fun.  The only problem is that with both Todd and me there, the students are going to have to be ruthless to get a word in edgewise.  But the entire expedition was exhausting.  At eighty-four, the mean streets of Manhattan are no cakewalk for me.

Monday, September 3, 2018


Tomorrow, before dawn, I shall set out for RDU airport to start a new adventure in my long life.  On a day on which the temperature threatens to hit 95 in the Big Apple, I shall fly to LaGuardia, catch a cab to Morningside Heights, and after touching base in various offices and having lunch with Todd Gitlin in the Pulitzer building café, I will go upstairs with him to launch Sociology GU4600, “The Mystifications of Social Reality.”   I feel a little as I did in 1958 when I went to the first meeting of my section of Social Sciences 5 to begin surveying two millennia of European history for a class of Harvard preppies who had learned a good deal more Roman history at Choate, Groton, and Philips Academy than I had managed to swot up in the preceding several months.

Columbia these days turns out to be less efficiently run than a V. A. hospital, if that can be imagined.  Over the last sixty years, I have one way or another taught at close to two dozen colleges and universities, and Columbia is by several orders of magnitude less well run than any of them, private or public, big or small, rich or poor.  Thus it is that as students begin the first day of the new semester, they will find that our course [alone among all the others] is listed on line as meeting in a room TBD.  We shall see whether anyone shows up.

Every Tuesday this fall, save Election Day, I shall fly up to New York, sometimes returning that night, sometimes staying over.  This means that there will be a regular hiatus in my blog postings, but I will keep you informed as to how it all goes.

Wish me luck.


Alas, we were not approved to adopt the cat.  It seems we could not realistically offer the cat a twenty year guaranteed home.  Now, the agency facilitating the adoption knew that before it sent us on the wild goose chase [are wild geese especially hard to catch, or does “wild” modify “chase,” not “goose”?]  Susie was bitterly disappointed, and I wrote a stern email to the agency.  It would be easier to adopt a Russian baby, were it not for the Magnitsky Act.


Saturday, September 1, 2018


Several commentators have raised once again questions about critiques of Piketty’s work, and I would like to address them, but that will take a while since the questions are complicated, and a little later this morning Susie and I will be going to meet a cat we are interested in adopting [the central question is whether the foster parents approve of us as adopters], so let me start this morning with the guilty plea of somebody named Sam Patten.  Why may it matter?

The central question of the Mueller investigation is whether the Trump campaign, and Trump himself, conspired with the Russian government to try to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.  This is not an investigation of whether the activities of the Russians affected the outcome.  No one can know the answer to that.  However, we do know that Clinton lost for two reasons:  She was the worst candidate imaginable, and she ran a godawful campaign.  So why do I care?  Because if Trump’s complicity can be proved, it will deal a death blow to him and also to the Republican Party.

Mueller has now established, I believe, that the Russians did two things to influence the campaign.  First, they hacked into the email accounts of Clinton, the DNC, and others, and leaked the hacked emails in ways designed to hurt her chances.  Second, they used social media to target swing voters with messages ostensibly from Americans.

Most attention has focused on the first of these actions, in part because of the public discussion of the Trump Tower meeting at which Russian agents offered the hacked emails to Trump campaign representatives.  So everyone wants to know whether it can be proven that Trump himself had advanced knowledge of the meeting and approved its purpose.

The second Russian effort was more complicated, for two reasons.  First, to pay for ads on social media platforms, one must provide an authenticatable identity, and the Russians wanted to keep their involvement secret.  Second, to be effective, such a social media campaign just have access to a huge database of voters, identifying them by location, gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, income, past voting behavior, and party registration, a database of the sort that political parties in the United States now develop and maintain.  [In my own local efforts, I have encountered the Obama campaign program VoteBuilder, and it is extraordinary.]

In February, Mueller indicted a host of unreachable Russians for the social media actions, along with one American nonentity.  On February 20th of this year, I wrote a post in which I quoted this bit from a news story:  “Separately, Mueller’s office announced that Richard Pinedo, of Santa Paula, California, had pleaded guilty to identity fraud. Pinedo, 28, admitted to running a website that offered stolen identities to help customers get around the security measures of major online payment sites. It was not made clear whether his service had been used by the Russian operatives.”

Poor Mr. Pinedo, just an enterprising young man stealing online identities, had gotten swept up in the biggest legal case of the century.  That answered the first question:  How did the Russians get the false identities?  That left the second question: Where did they get the fine-grained voter data for their efforts?  Enter Cambridge Analytica, whose records Mueller subpoenaed.  Cambridge Analytica did data work for the Trump campaign?  And who headed up the Trump campaign’s data efforts?  None other than golden boy Jared Kushner, husband of Trump’s Number One daughter and secret passion, Ivanka.

But that left one link missing in the chain from Trump to Putin.  Enter Sam Patten.  Sam Patten, in addition to working for the pro-Russian Ukraine faction, also had links to Cambridge Analytica.

Aha!  If Patten, who is now cooperating with Mueller, can connect Cambridge Analytica to Pinedo and to Kushner, then the chain is complete.

That is why it matters that on the last day before the magic September 1 deadline, Mueller’s grand jury handed up an indictment against obscure Sam Patten.

Stay tuned.