Coming Soon:

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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

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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Thursday, February 28, 2019

BINGE WATCHING


Now that I have recovered from binge-watching the Cohen hearings, I thought I would make a few comments.

First, it was a spectacular disaster for the Republicans, as countless commentators have noted.  The only Republican member of the Committee who uttered a word in defense of Trump was North Carolina’s very own Mark Meadows, who brought in a Black woman who works for the White House as evidence that Trump is not a racist.  I mean, really?  Rashida Tlaib took Meadows on about that and made a real rookie error that demonstrated that she is not ready for prime time.  As she should have known, it is a long established custom and rule of the House that Members cannot make attacks on other members.  There are all manner of elaborate rhetorical tropes that Members use to get around this rule, but she violated it by calling Meadows a racist.  This allowed Meadows to protest, and the Chair, the splendid Elijah Cummings, was compelled to side with Meadows and soothe the troubled waters.  I must confess I was not impressed with Tlaib.  Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, used her five minutes splendidly to elicit from Cohen a list of people who should be called to testify to one or another specific bits of Trumperie.  Well done!

As everyone has said, the high point of the entire day was Cohen’s dramatic production of the check, signed in Trump’s distinctive hand in the White House, for one-twelfth of the reimbursement to Cohen for the payoff to Stormy Daniels.  This was magnificent theater, and will be replayed uncounted times for years.

Now, a little complaint.  Among the many bad things Cohen said he did for Trump was to write a series of threatening letters to Trump’s high school, two colleges, and the College Board warning of law suits if they released Trump’s grades.  Now I know this is not at the top of most people’s lists, but I really salivated when Cohen said that and I wish someone would follow up. 

As for Cohen himself, I am an atheist, so I am not required to believe in redemption.  Cohen is a dirtbag, regardless of whether he loves his wife and children, but he is now our dirtbag, and God Bless Him.

All in all, it was a day well spent.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

ANTICIPATION

Well, I have read Michael Cohen's opening statement, courtesy of the NY TIMES, and I must say, whoever wrote it for him did a masterful job.  As the old saying has it, butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.  If he were Catholic, it would contain enough contrition to buy his way out of a ton of Hail Marys.  He is bringing documents!  I plan to watch the whole thing.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

SOLA FIDE


Although I grew up in an interfaith household [my father was an agnostic and my mother was an atheist], I never learned much about religion as a boy, not even Judaism, since I took a pass on a bar mitzvah and bought Natie Gold’s set of Lionel model trains with the $100 my parents gave me as compensation for not having a big party.  My only encounter with the past in high school was Mr. Wepner’s Modern European History course, but all I remember of it is that we had to take notes [uncommon in high school courses in the forties.]  In college, I quickly moved to the forefronts of logic and analytic philosophy [which in those days meant the analytic/synthetic distinction and related arcana], and as a graduate student, of course, I learned nothing beyond the four corners of my discipline.  It was not until I got my first teaching job as an Instructor in Philosophy and General Education at Harvard, assigned to teach the history of Europe from Caesar to Napoleon, that to defend myself against accusations of gross incompetence I actually sat down and read 20,000 pages of European history.  Among other things, I discovered the Reformation.  To be sure, even growing up in Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, I had heard distant rumors of a distinction between Catholics and Protestants, but since that did not seem to have any relation to Gödel’s Incompleteness proof, I paid very little attention.

To prepare myself to confront a class of Harvard preppies, all of whom, it appeared, had taken six or seven years of European history at Groton and Phillips Andover Academy, I actually read some Luther and bought an English translation of Calvin’s Institutes into which I dipped desultorily.  I discovered for the first time the subtle distinctions among the various Protestant sects, and managed to commit some of it to memory.  Coupled with what I had learned about the almost two millennium old Roman Catholic Church, I was sufficiently clued up on Christianity to avoid embarrassment in my twice weekly classes.

Which brings me to the current Roman Catholic sex crisis.  The casus belli of the original Reformation was the sale of indulgences – partial reductions in the punishment required in Purgatory for temporal sins before admission to the eternal bliss of heaven.  The broader centuries long resistance to the authority of Rome and the Papacy exploded in a rejection of the political structure of the Church, leading to a splintering of large segments of the Roman Catholic world into a wide assortment of sects: Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Anglicans, Baptists, even Shakers and Quakers.

The current crisis is much, much deeper and more dangerous to the survival of the Roman Catholic Church than the sale of indulgences ever was.  The immorality of the clergy, their sheer evil [if I may, uncharacteristically, use a term drawn from Theology, not Ethics], the total complicity of the hierarchy at every level from Diocese to Vatican, in my judgment threatens the survival of the Church in its present form.

I do not think we should be misled by the mayfly brevity of our current secular attention.  The first Reformation was a century or more in its development.  The present crisis is developing at breakneck speed for an institution as ancient and tradition-bound as the Catholic Church. 

How will this crisis play out?  I have no idea, but it would genuinely surprise me if it were simply to subside and die.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

GEARING UP

As I noted here just two weeks ago, 80% of the delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination [i.e. 40% of the total] will have been chosen by the time March 4, 2020 dawns.  The big prizes are of course California and Texas [with the other big prize, New York, not scheduled until April 23rd], but tucked in there on March 3rd with the jumbo states is l'il ole North Carolina, so it looks as though those of us down here will have a slightly disproportionately larger shot at making a difference.

Because California and Texas are so expensive to campaign in, candidates like Bernie with an established money machine will have an especially good chance.

This time around, the unpledged superdelegates do not get to vote at the convention until the second round.  Unless something crushing surfaces about her, Harris looks to make it past March 3rd, along with Bernie, probably Elizabeth Warren, and maybe [but maybe not] Biden.  Booker?  Klobuchar?  Who knows.

It will be interesting.

Friday, February 22, 2019

WAIT FOR IT


Now that the Mueller report does really seem imminent, the current obsession is whether we will get to see it.  Let me explain why I believe we will, regardless of what it says.

There are three possibilities.  The report could be good for Trump, bad for Trump, or devastating for Trump.  Good for Trump means that Mueller says he has no credible evidence that Trump was aware of or participated in his campaign’s attempts to acquire, or cooperate in the release of, Russian-hacked materials harmful to Clinton.  Bad for Trump means that Mueller details credible evidence of just that.  Devastating for Trump means that Mueller hands up a sweeping RICO-style indictment in which Trump is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.  [God, I love that phrase!  It is as close to poetry as we ever get in politics.]

If it is Good for Trump, he will proclaim it from the rooftops, including every detail from usually secret Grand Jury testimony.  NO COLLUSION!!!!!!!!!!!

If it is Devastating for Trump, it will be presented in open court, and all hell will break loose.

If it is Bad for Trump, William Barr will bottle up as much of it as he possibly can, several House committees will issue subpoenas for it, the White House will take the case to court, it will go to the Supreme Court, and they will either order it released, or they will allow the Administration to keep it secret, in which case it will be leaked.

How do I know that it will be leaked?  Because everything is leaked these days.  Remember, these are not the good old days when reports were typed up on standard typewriters with numbered carbon copies.  This report will be a computer file, maybe a megabyte of code, existing on a variety of platforms.  It will be easily downloadable and anonymously sent to the NY TIMES and the Washington Post.

There is simply no way that it will remain secret more than a New York minute.

Now it is 8:39 a.m.  Nobody can accuse me of being obsessed, right?

GOOD GRIEF, CHARLIE BROWN

I put up a 197 word humorous post and it triggered a tsunami of deadly serious responses.   We all need to take a deep breath.  It is going to be a long run up even to the first caucuses.

Last time around, I gave so much money to Bernie that he gave some back.  [I exceeded the legal limit, so his campaign sent me a check for $300.]  I am not so flush now as I was then, and we are all four years older, so I shall go a bit easy.

Once again it is Friday, the day of the week on which Mueller indicts people.  We can only hope.  It is 7:09 am where I am.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

NO REST FOR THE WEARY

After bombshell testimony, the North Carolina Election Commission has just voted 5-0 to invalidate the House race in the 9th CD and to call for a new election.  I guess this means we have to contribute to yet another campaign.  The Republican, Mark Harris, won by 905 votes in a massively crooked election.  Maybe we can win this time.

MUSINGS OF AN OCTOGENARIAN RADICAL

I have been thinking of running for President.  Until a few months ago, I had never been elected to anything, but after winning the contest for Precinct Representative of Building 5 at Carolina Meadows, a race that was hard fought [even though I was the only candidate, since nobody else wanted the job,] I think I am ready.  Some might say I am too old, because I will be 87 when taking the oath of office, but now that Joe Biden is about to jump in [or so it is speculated], that argument doesn't carry as much weight.  Of course I would be 91 when I was up for re-election, so maybe I should choose Bernie as my running mate so that he can take over for me after one term.  If I won, I would have to give up my teaching gig at Columbia, but I could still go on posting to this blog.

Speaking of Biden, his entry poses an existential problem for me.  If the polls continue to show, as they do now, that he has far and away the best chance of beating Trump, do I throw my support to him or not?


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

BACK TO OBSESSING ABOUT TRUMP


Despite my efforts to appear above the fray, au courant, sophisticated, a deep Marxist philosopher absorbed by underlying structures and world-historical movements, a veritable zeitgeistnik, the truth, as I suppose is obvious, is that I am totally enmeshed in the minutiae of the daily political catastrophe.  The latest source of fluttering heartbeats and heavy breathing is Andrew McCabe’s book tour through the talk shows.  [I shan’t explain who Andrew McCabe is.  If you don’t know, you won’t care about the rest of this post.]

Everyone on cable news is obsessing about McCabe’s recounting of the meetings at Justice in which Rod Rosenstein brought up the 25th Amendment as a possible way of getting rid of Trump, but that is not, to my way of thinking, the real news in McCabe’s insider account.

According to McCabe, very shortly after Trump was inaugurated, the FBI received information that raised the possibility that Trump was acting as an agent of Russia, and so a counterintelligence investigation was launched [this is not the real meat – wait for it.]  Then – and this is the important tidbit – he went to a meeting of the super clued in group of members of Congress known colloquially as the Gang of Eight to brief them.  The Gang of Eight consists of the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Ranking Minority Member of that Committee, the Speaker of the House, the Minority Leader of the House, and the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.  Regardless of which party is in the majority in either chamber, this is by construction a committee of four Republicans and Four Democrats.

Let me make two points about McCabe’s account of the meeting.  First, it is certainly, necessarily true.  Why?  Because if it were not, as soon as McCabe said it on national TV, at least one of those eight people would have immediately contradicted him.  But none of them has.  Trey Gowdy, who was not in that room and is no longer in Congress, has just stated that he does not believe it.  But not one of the three Republicans still in Congress [Paul Ryan has retired] has backed him up.

Second, according to McCabe’s account, the Committee did not explode, erupt, call for hearings, demand that he resign, charge him with treason.  Think about that.  The Republicans have just, against all odds, won the presidency and both houses of Congress, and the FBI is launching an investigation to find out whether the man just inaugurated is a Russian plant, a real live Manchurian Candidate!  AND AFTER HEARING THE EVIDENCE, THEY JUST SIT THERE AND TAKE IT.

I suggest that this is the most explosive single piece of news to come out of this entire affair.

Stay tuned.



Monday, February 18, 2019

AN ASTONISHING COMMENT


Yesterday, I linked to an interesting Op Ed on Iran and asked whether anyone had real knowledge of the situation there.  I imagined perhaps a response from someone with scholarly expertise, even direct familiarity with the country.  Instead I found this morning a six part impassioned response running more than 3700 words by an Iranian student.  Since any readers may skip the comments and just check the posts, I have decided to reproduce the entire series of comments seriatim and unedited.  They are an astonishing window on Iran.  I shall not make any comment, but I invite you to do so.  I am sure the author, who signs him/herself as “Underoverrateds,” would be interested in your views.  Here is the entire comment, verbatim:

Dear professor Wolff
Hi
you may not actually believe this but I currently live in Iran.in Fact I and most of my friends were deeply involved in the green movement that accrued in 2009.we were among the crowds ; at that time I was an undergrad student of Chemical engineering in Amirkabir University of technology(Tehran Polytechnic) which is generally recognized as one of the major political forces in Iran's history . I and most of my close friends were heavily involved in the protests and everything that has happened after those years .
recently I stumbled upon your videos on YouTube since I became interested in psychoanalysis and philosophy , actually more to the fact that I just simply fell in love will your unbelievable stories to be honest and somehow ended up here , looking to find the books you mentioned but found the first topic in the top on your blog about my Country ...what a ride life is !
all right , so I guess I should begin by saying that Yes most of the article is accurate about the current state of affairs in Iran but there's more it than just simply reducing the oppositions to two major forces namely the " Mojahedin " and the " Monarchists ".or mentioning the two " masih alinejad " and " masoumeh ebtekar ". that is just not fair and not the whole picture . there are many people who has had a significant effect in the recent political narrative of Iran whom I simply cant name because they are so many of them .
actually most of the debate and activism that is happening,always, in Iran currently is ignited by the new found powers of Social media and the discourse that it brought to the younger generation . in 2008 specially all the discussion of the "Green Movement" was on facebook . many activist ( in the form of anonymous university students using aliases and so forth ) tried to change the narrative established by the government media (IRIB TV , which is the standard TV stations backed and dominated by the government ) towards specific poetical everyday lies and atrocities happening around us.people being murdered in the streets , being arrested and so forth and this force is still very much alive and run by ordinary people ,even though the narrative sometimes gets caught up to very tedious details of the even or argument which loses its significance of forgets the whole picture .
for instance one of our close friends
namely Majid Tavakoli , a student and activist in the university was arrested and put to prison simply because of his speeches and criticism . so we should have no illusion
Iran is not a free country , just like china or Soviet Russia If you were to even mention Leaders name or criticizes the government you would certainty be considered as " enemy of Islam " or stuff like that and put to jail ; even lately the lawyers of activist been arrested and charged on preposterous charges that If I were to tell you wouldn't even believe me . activist in all fields whether be environment , childmarrige , animal rights to all the other kind ; even in the recent years some of the more important sociology professors have been suspiciously arrested and later found dead by suicide a very clear move by the government to silence not only the opposition and the ordinary people but also destroy its intellectual professors ....very sad what's happening to our country before our eyes 

also as far as my own experience goes I saw many of my own close friends in our own dormitory being arrested and send to prison which created and sustained an atmosphere of oppression amongst student and set a stage for what was to come in the coming years.
. most of these people so traumatized by the experiences of torture and isolation that essentially they were forced to drop out of university leave Tehran or to escape the country.
to this day and after the shift that has happened with so called " the Iran nuclear deal " as a political maneuver to present Iran as a country of reason in the international world and then the subsequent Trump shenanigan isolating Iran more and more ,
there is still a great deal of fire under the ashes of Iranian political unconsciousness even rooting back to the revolution and the war with Iraq . many people because of the oppressive nature of this strange Islamic dictatorship which moves closer and closer hijacking everyday economic and social life , have inevitably chosen to distance themselves from politics altogether .which creates different more troublesome Ideologies .
actually most of the activist in the past ten years have been either arrested , tortured , forced into false and public confessions in the national TV or mysteriously killed. the ones who where able to escape Iran also have a troublesome view , on the one had the have all the freedom they want but they are now disconnected with everyday Iranians and in a very perverted manner would eventually tell Iranian paradox stories to get the attention of the western media somehow , like the whole infamous " Masih Alinejad " complex . someone who has been established by the media company VOA as a journalist but constantly whether consciously or unconsciously hijacks the opposition narrative of Iranian political Struggle into a very waterd-down entertainment of sorts . Iranian oppositions has become an entertainment , a spectacle , a very weird on too .but that's not the whole picture .
there are much more important things going on in Iran which are overshadowed by these sorta people who try to narrate everything into a simple no-Hijab fight which is why this person and most outsiders are seen as opportunistic by oppressed Iranians . unfortunately these sorta movements have some populist attraction but lack the depth of argument and planing and will never become a political party or real civil rights movement . all the true movements in Iran have already been diminished by the secret Intelligence of the government
as you can see from all sides ordinary people have been under more and more pressure .
secondly there are multitude of other serious problems which dictated the conversation , namely the " migration" and " economic collapse " mixed with the " threats of war"
in the past years the sheer number of people migrating from Iran to Europe and recently even to neighboring countries such and turkey and even Georgia has had a very serious effect of the way the people perceive their life even . somehow very strangely this has made a strange dynamic in the people that they think they have a new hope of escaping this prison which is called their country . the sheer access to internet , English learning institutions , movies and social media has at the same time enlightened the youngsters of Iran but at the same time has made them into a very strange and complicated characters . they rebel and argue against different conservative and theological antiquated topics of Iranian culture while pursuing to be accepted in universities in Canada or Germany whilst coming to terms with their old-fashioned oppressive families and society

I'm sure If you were to just ask around you would find a student in your university who recently left Tehran to pursuit his or her dream .and I'm sure he will be able confirm these problems that I'm suggesting. so you see this new found hope has had a detrimental effect of psyche of Iranians and they are dealing with a melancholic state of mind really. now their concerns are changed in a very strange manner to escape and migrate at all costs.
burning all the resources and all the people around them,exploiting every opportunity here as quickly as possible to get to Europe .
this very weird effect has had a devastating effect on the public consciousness . so in the parties and gatherings people now talk about the daily rising exchange rate of Dollar to Rial everyday or different way to Leave this place as quickly as possible . and this migration works not only on a pure physical level but on a virtual one too . many of my friends who for whatever reason where unable to migrated or find a decent life here(which is practically impossible,whether you have to become a liar-middleman sort person destroying every foundation or a agent of government ) migrated radically into constant addiction to movies , denial of their surrounding and obviously other issues such as alcohol and hashish addiction . this very disposition of the new found knowledge made possible by the access to Internet and the inability to do anything politically or socially to change the circumstance of our lives or improve even the slightest economic or social features literally destroys people willingness to take life seriously anymore. most people life and marriages are falling apart , practically everyone is depressed or suffering a severe mental illness . people of my country are the unhappiest simply by knowing how terrible their lives are and can't do anything about it .that's why illusions are big here .
whilst living in a city where in you where to go from the south to the north you can literally see the class struggle of the whole country , the horrible economic injustices. it's like going from Chicago to Detroit to Bronx to Hollywood hills in 20 minutes.it's terrible how Tehran has become half of the paradoxes of the country combined in a tiny space .
Iran is truely a country of paradoxes , but what I'm aiming at is that the loss of hope which seems to function in itself a conformist category in the discussions among Iranians these days has two major component .
one is that if you were to be a realist in Iran and live your life by the knowledge of all the horrible atrocities that happen around you which you see simply daily on BBC persian news or "Mana Neyestani" 's cartoons for instance ,you would literally feel like a prisoner and sink to the extreme of the depressions simply by the fact that this govenment is so rigged against you that you can never make any sense of it or change it a little bit . you are simply doomed to fail here no matter who you are or what job you have . you don't even have the basic rights of living .
on the other hand if you were to deny the reality and refuge in the govenment-islamic-conservative ideology you will have to stupefy yourself to the point of actually preventing your brain to ask serious political, social and of course logical questions .then you live your life as a sorta animal , a very troubling oppressed creature that wants to bite and resort to every aspect of violence and incivility ...usually towards children , women or other people around them .
something which I fisrt-handly saw with my own eyes among my undergrad colleges .
as the would transition from high school (a complete deprived ideological environment from their small conservative town) to a university (an open-minded modern space full of exciting progressive discussions ) simply in order to function as a human being among all the everyday paradoxes of Iran's society you have to shift,adjust and even morph your own prospective to the point of denying the reality !
which may sound weird but I feel is the exact problem which current Iranian opposition . we as the people , for instance think on two layers , if you go the twitter or even the artistic circles , galleries and cafes in downtown Tehran you will soon find an underground,counterculture vibe , a society and relation standard of like punk era of Britain even . but at the same time when youngsters go back to their homes near midnight(because there are no bars and nightlife is essential prohibited ) where they have to live with their parents mostly because the cant even afford place of their own are confronted with a systemic oppression apparatus that works because it specifically denies the " progressive thought discussion "that it had just yesterday on his or her phone .and rebellious and opposition of the youth and even the older generation can be seen through this lens . people who in their back of minds want to protest but they don't want to lose their jobs or homes or etc. a very weird duality.
this very strange and distorted condition is very clearly portrayed by the melancholy of our contemporary artists namely people like " Mohsen Namjoo " which as a musician always longs for a combination of these two paradoxical aspects of Iranian life .
but my last point
the problem of Iranian people, the major question which is one everybody's minds is why,why despite all these atrocities and oppression and the new found knowledge why don't people rise up ? well the simple answer is the did . and were brutally murdered on the streets.
from the events of 2009 onwards we the youth of Iran see really no option .there is no way out of this mess .
and I can just guess about the future but I think the economic sanctions of the U.S and the current hostile attitude of Trump has had a severe blow not just to the economy of some of the middle class of Iranians (who may want another revolution) but to their spirit in their fights against injustices in general .people are seriously tired of all these conditions .
many of the youth have had not even a single happy year and just simply can't go on so the try to forget reality.
take for instance what happened in the past months first with the teacher's strike and then shortly after with the truck drivers strike and finally with the short lived labor movement in Ahvaz , workers of steel companies there just simply demanded to be recognized as human beings and be simply paid their wages ,showing their solidarity with the French yellow vest movement . not even asking much for their work conditions to be changed or anything ... and the newspapers and the TV stations didn't even mention them once .
all captured and broadcasted in Twitter by common people .what happened in the end ? their leaders arrested twice tortured , forced to confess in in TV shamed by the government , told the truth in Instagram , arrested again and the people ....well the people can do nothing . like literally I'm risking my life writing you these words .... that's the condition here ; a long silence to save our asses and get the hell out of this god damn forsaken place. 
so you see sir we are in a bit of a pickle here ; unfortunately Iranian people also have other tendencies as well to them which is incidentally quite similar to american consumer culture which is their innate fascination by being " surfers !"
they just simply love to surf everysorta stupid wave or trend that's happening around them whether it be the worldcup happening in Russia , the Fajr stupid film festival , the Valentine and Holloween but at the same time the Ramadan and norouz or even the trend of romanticizing their own oppression ! this is where it really gets weird because you see
people here also on some level like to play the victimization card a lot and it goes even back to our cinema during the war . many people are fascinated by the different way we are exploited by our government and the latest of these people are our own so called activist . in a very complex way they try to stage every little bit of oppression as a card to further their agenda which is a really dark a sinister thing to do but unfortunately has happened in the last couple of years . people going on foreign TV shows to promote their own unique way of having been oppressed and I think this last bit is the worst thing to our general cause .
because even if we were to be authentic in telling of our stories at the end of the day we will be viewed as a opportunistic person granting his or her Visa ...
. I mean can you even imagine a more paradoxical social and political psyche than Iranian harbor in their so called "common talk" everyday . they unfortunately have been for the last 40 or even 50 years so swung to left and right , conservative and progressive waves that it seems the whole consciousness of people has gone to waste .they have become a whore of all the worst movements , a spectator , been played all sorta ways to support all sort of candidates that promised hope and freedom and all were simply a lie .
the generation of our fathers and mothers living in small cities live in such a paradoxical ideologies that I even hesitate to write about it here , fearing you wouldn't even believe a single word of mine .being a hardcore Muslim in " Moharam " grieving the death of their so called Third Imam , Hossein at the same time trying to find cheap booze and get drunk so they can perform the strange religious ceremonies better ... like the worst of the paradoxes you could find .
so to conclude Iran is a very complex country even more than Venezuela or Turkey or other so called " third world country " you may ask why is that so . and I can answer simply because of the sheer potential of its youth and the depth of its history . just follow some of the current street photographers on Instagram or the very strange artistic vibrant yet at the same time denied the opportunity and damaged artists living currently in Tehran (which resembles new york in 70s by the way ) to get a good glance of what's really happening .
people are simply migrating into their minds , to the dark and strange places or their existences full of paradoxes and confusion , full of impulsive hopes and dominating depression .
why do you think a 27 year drop out student of engineering like me would become a English teacher then study cinema then become interested in philosophy and Zizek then go to the militarily service for two years come back leave it all out, start studying philosophy and write this whole comment here .what sorta kooky people would do that really
we are seriously strange people living here 

in a very unique positions as well in history , as Europe , the US and most other countries chooses a far-right politician to be their leaders and move closer to another economic collapse , we Iranians struggle to leave this messy revolution stuff behind us not in a physical sense but in a more abstract approach .
while we saw what happened with countries like lybia our people in a panic state have unconsciousnessly decided to migrate to the underground and to the back of their minds .
aha , also I have to mention , yes unfortunately its true Iranian government is heavily involved in interfering conflicts in the region ,terrorism and stuff, mostly mirroring against the acts of suadi arabia , some analysts calling it the "cold war of middle east" . most of theses proxies wars are funded and carried out by "Sepah" of course an organisation and a complete ideological nightmare branch of government which is so crazy I can't even begin to talk about it .which on the same level has modeled its foreign policy after the U.S. by the way .... isn't that a little bit of nice Irony for US ?!!
unfortunately on the other hand people are not consistent in their views nor unmixed in their race and back ground to be united easily. we have many people from many different back grounds from different dialects to different beliefs each oppressed throughout history by the government one way or another but this gap between the people makes our country and our major city lives a place of clash of the cultures . when there is no history or established culture among the ordinary people, people from sheer stupidity and lack or theory knowledge go to either fantasy space talking about Kouroush and 2500 years of our empire or simply go all the way into becoming an agent of capitalism exploiting everything and everyone in their way not thinking about any fellow citizen or even the country. this very dichotomy of our people is core root of their problems . they live everyday between these paradoxical forces , waking up everyday,wearing a mask suitable for another lie, looking for a leader or a wave to submit themselves in not knowing what the consequences will be .
actually if you were to study the 1979 Iranian revolution you would probably find this same " Surfer " pattern there much more clearly and the instincts of Iranian hasn't change much . unfortunately many of what is considered "normal" everyday people are people who simply don't even want to think about their problems and face them since they have been oppressed and sad in a dead-end situation of constant stress for so long they see no point in engaging or the fight and the ones who engage are arrested , killed or forced to exile right in front of our eyes , essentially people here feel that nothing works . no social or political movement can change anything and its just gonna get worse , day by day , and nobody I mean it Internationally , nobody cares about Iranian people .
I hope I didn't bore you too much
by the way I just simply love your videos . wish you would do more one other thinkers like Foucault or derrida ,Heidegger or chomsky
maybe even a simple series talking a little about them would be nice .
Feb 2019


Sunday, February 17, 2019

AN INTERESTING TAKE ON IRAN

I stumbled on this impassioned essay about Iran, and I am utterly unfit to evaluate it.  If anyone has some real knowledge about Iran, I would love an informed opinion about it.

Friday, February 15, 2019

A BELATED REPLY TO S. WALLERSTEIN


Nine days ago, in response to a post entitled “From Each According to His Ability,” S. Wallerstein wrote a comment to which I did not at the time respond, but which has been rattling around in my mind, and I decided today to have a stab at a response.  Here is his comment:

“What's fascinating about this conversation, among other things, is that no one participating, including myself, believes in the higher morality of Socialist Man any more.  If we were having this discussion in the 60's or early 70's, the higher morality of Socialist Man would have been taken for granted. Anyone who talked about monetary rewards for right choices, as Professor Wolff does above, would have been mocked as being infiltrated from Readers Digest.  I'm not sure exactly when I stopped believing in the higher morality of Socialist Man, but now that I see that others no longer believe in it, I realize that I haven't believed in it for quite a few years. That's a real sea change among what might be called the "socialist community".”

As soon as I read this comment, my mind went to the beautiful closing passage from Leon Trotsky’s 1924 book Literature and Revolution.  Trotsky was a class act, unlike the man who had him murdered.  Those who want to know more might read Isaac Deutscher’s monumental three volume biography [Stalin only got one volume from Deutscher.  BTW, I have some lovely personal stories about Deutesher, whom I met twice, one of which involves Mika Bzrezinski’s father.]  Here is the passage:

“Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman. It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psychophysical selfeducation will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts—literature, drama, painting, music, and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser, and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dynamically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.”

This was written in the glory days of the Bolshevik revolution, and although Trotsky was unusually rhapsodic, he was not alone in his belief that socialism would usher in not merely a new stage in the development of the social relations of production but also a new era in individual human fulfilment.  I was deeply moved [and also, I must say, somewhat amused] by Trotsky’s vision of the man of the future [needless to say, he does not mention the woman of the future], but the truth is I do not believe a word of it. 

There are three different claims at issue here, and it is useful to distinguish among them.  The first, expressed so beautifully by Trotsky, is that socialism will unleash the creative artistic energies lying with the human psyche in ways never seen before, so that all of us will become Aristotles, Goethes, or Marxes, and new now unimaginable forms of human creativity will rise above them.  The second is that just as feudalism requires [and recreates] feudal types – lords, peasants, serfs, priests, kings and queens – and capitalism requires [and brings into existence] capitalist types – legally free laborers, entrepreneurs, capitalists, petit bourgeois  – so socialism requires, will call forth, and will reproduce new types, whose moral sensibilities will resonate to the clarion call “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”  The third claim, which I think S. Wallerstein is alluding to [though I may be wrong], is that socialism will not only produce, but requires, a degree of social responsibility and revolutionary morality that will make the day-to-day motivations of men and women under socialism different from and more admirable than the motivations of men and women in capitalist societies and economies.

Trotsky’s claim is just hogwash, and his own examples say as much.  Aristotle, Goethe, and Marx [and Shakespeare, Austen, Palestrina, Bach, Dickinson, Michaelangelo] come from many different stages in the development of the social relations of production, and there is not the slightest reason to imagine that their creative abilities can be arranged in an evolutionary, or revolutionary, sequence.  Aeschylus is [at least] as great a playwright as Ibsen, and Bach is surely a greater composer than Chopin.  Trotsky was only 45 when he wrote Literature and Revolution, and we can forgive him his enthusiasm, but no one can take his vision seriously.

Properly understood, the second claim is probably correct, although in the absence of any true socialist society it is speculative.  Clearly the personality types characteristic of medieval France differ from those characteristic of nineteenth century England.  [For some perceptive observations along these lines it is useful to re-read Alexis de Tocqueville’s L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution.  Also, of course, Max Weber’s famous monograph The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  And, at a deeper level, Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society.]  What kight such socialist types look like?  Well, one could do worse than to examine an early Israeli Kibbutz or a contemporary community collective food market.

But it is the third claim about which I am most concerned here, and about which I am skeptical.  Does socialism require that we all be better people, fairer, more generous, more concerned about others, more committed to ”the cause,” more ready to make sacrifices for the common welfare?

Lord, I hope not, because save in the excitement of revolutionary days, this sort of spiritual transformation is simply not going to happen.  That is the import of Oscar Wilde’s famous one-liner, “Socialism will never work – too many meetings.”  A system of social relations of production and the associated institutional arrangements is sustainable only if it can function successfully in quotidian ways with the ordinary run of human being.  Even in holy orders, it is only the exceptional priest or nun, destined for sainthood, who can resist what Weber, in another context, called the routinization of charisma.

If I may descend abruptly from the world historical to the personal, in my own career I lived through this routinization.  The Afro-American Studies Department I joined in 1992 was staffed by an extraordinary group of men and women [more precisely men and one woman, the Chair] all of whom had come out of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, from CORE, from SNCC, from the Panthers, from the Black Arts Movement, from the Institute of the Black World.  They had a passion and a commitment quite unlike anything I had ever witnessed, and it inspired a series of classes of graduate students in the ground-breaking doctoral program we created and which I ran for twelve years.  By the time I retired in 2004, these founding members were getting ready to retire, and were being replaced by fine, accomplished young scholars, none of whom had come out of a movement [there being no longer a movement from which they could come.]

It is always thus, alas, and so it will be with socialism, if or when its time comes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

FREE ASSOCIATION


Unknown responds to my lighthearted post NUMBER CRUNCHING with the comment, "Very nice. So enjoyably snarky. Further evidence that your back pains have subsided.”  The reference to my back pains, which happily have all but disappeared, put me in mind of a famous line from a June 22, 1867 letter from Marx to Engels in which Marx writes, “I hope the bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles all the rest of their lives.”  Marx was much afflicted with carbuncles, and it is said that when they tormented him so much that he could not sleep, he would try to take his mind off the pain by reading economic statistics.  That was one of the many hints that persuaded me I did not have what it took to be Karl Marx.

NUMBER CRUNCHING


A rebellion is brewing in Trump Land.  Trump voters are starting to send in their tax returns, and a growing number of them are shocked to discover that their refunds are much, much less than in years past.  Indeed, some are even having to write checks to the IRS.  This isn’t what the Great Man promised.  What is going on?  The real answer is rather intriguing, and says something about the difference between people and corporations.  [I know, I know, a long time ago the Supreme Court said that corporations are, for all intents and purposes, people, but what do they know?]

Now, set to one side the fact that the great Trump tax cut was mostly for rich people and corporations.  And set to one side, as well, the fact that the tax bill capped deductions taken mostly by people in high tax states [a.k.a. blue states], thereby delivering a tax increase to poor benighted Trumpites who made the mistake of failing to settle in Trumpian safe zones.  I mean, if a MAGA hat wearer living in New York did not do the decent, American thing and move to West Virginia, so much the worse for him.  No, I am talking here about your typical red state white Trumpian.

Why do folks get big checks from the IRS every spring?  Because too much is withheld from their paychecks, that is why.  They are, in effect, making an interest free loan to the gummint.  The Trump tax bill, among other things, made some adjustments designed to bring the withholding into alignment with the actual tax owed.  So why the uproar?  Didn’t folks notice that they were getting a little extra in their pay checks every two weeks?  A corporation would notice, and aren’t people just very small corporations [if I may turn the Supreme Court on its head]?

Well, no, actually, they aren’t.  Let’s consider some numbers.  The typical Trump voter, contrary to popular mythology, comes from a middle class or slightly upper middle class White family.  Median household income for white families is about $64,000, give or take.  Median income for Trump voters is rather more than that, maybe $72,000 [surprise, surprise.]

Let’s suppose a median Trump voter is paid every week, and suppose as well that this Trumpite routinely gets a refund in April from the IRS of $1000.  Assuming this is a single income household, gross pay for the wage earner every week is ~$1384.  Suppose after all deductions, the paycheck is $1,000.  If the IRS is refunding $1000 every year, then this means that it is withholding roughly $19.25 too much every week.

Now let us suppose that under the new tax regime, the weekly pay check, deposited directly into the Trumpian’s bank account, goes up from $1000 to $1019.25.  At the end of the year, the household has received $1000 more in pay, and its withholding matches what it owes in taxes, so it gets no refund.

Where’s the beef?

I think we all know the answer intuitively.  It is just millionaire Representatives and Senators who don’t.  That extra $19.25 goes virtually unnoticed by the members of the household.  That is $77 a month, hardly enough for Papa, Mama, and the two teenage children, all wearing their MAGA hats, to go to a movie and have the usual supply of slurpies and supersized popcorns.  But the $1000 check in April is different.  That is real money.  That is enough to do something with.

Only rich people manage their household finances the way the CFO of a corporation manages the corporation’s finances.  Ordinary people, living fairly close to their incomes, just go along making small, unnoticed adjustments to small variations in their weekly income.  The burden of a large unusual expense [the purchase of a car, maybe] is managed by buying on time and then integrating that cost into the monthly expenses.  That, after all, is how ordinary people buy a house.  The arrival of a large windfall [the tax refund] is treated as a welcome break from the grind of paying the bills.

I sincerely hope that this wise, rational, totally defensible IRS adjustment makes everybody mad, and I also hope all those mad people take their anger out on the Republicans, who are to blame.

ASK AND IT SHALL BE GIVEN YOU, SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND

A while back I asked a geeky question about deleted emails, and now Alexander McColl has given me exactly the sort of detailed geeky answer I was looking for.  Thank you very much!  It would be fascinating to know the full extent of the collective knowledge of the readers of this blog.  It must be awesome.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

WHOOPS

That is Edmund Morgan [ht to dean.]

Monday, February 11, 2019

DEAR GOD!

The appalling Governor Northam of Virginia referred to the African captives brought to Virginia in 1619 as "indentured servants."  

APOCALYPSE SOON

If you want something to worry about so big that it can take your mind off Trump, read this.

HANDICAPPING THE HORSE RACE


Over the weekend, two more candidates – Klobuchar and Warren – entered the lists for the 2020 Democratic nomination, and I think I need to say something about how things are shaping up.  Let me put my priorities on the table for all to see.

First:  the number one priority is to beat Trump.  I begin to think that regardless of what Mueller and the Southern District of New York turn up, Trump will in fact survive to run for a second term and no Republican will defeat him in the primaries regardless of how disastrous for them his candidacy appears.  He may be impeached by the House but he will not be convicted by the Senate and the worse things look for him in the courts, the more he needs a second term to avoid indictment and conviction.  Obviously, this is speculation, but that is how it looks to me now.    So, my first choice for Democratic nominee is someone who can clearly beat Trump.  If the polls suggest that virtually any of them can [and this is entirely possible], then we can talk.

Second:  Any viable Democratic candidate in this cycle will give lip service to progressive policies, and lip service may be all we need.  What matters when it comes to actual progressive legislation is the make-up of the House and Senate.  Furthermore, any proposal, no matter how bold and exciting, will be whittled down and compromised and hedged about before it becomes law.  That is how the American political system works, for better or worse.  We need a welling up of progressive energy from below.  So it is essential that the left put forward as many viable progressive candidates as possible at every level from town water commissioner to governor and senator to seize the 2020 opportunity, which may shape up to be a left-wing wave election.

Third:  The most we can hope for is that previously fringe left policies – like Social Security, Medicare, Minimum Wage, and progressive taxation – become mainstream realities and then taken-for-granted baked-in realities, even though they will always fall far short of what people like me want.  That too is how the American political system works, and I have lived long enough to see it play out that way repeatedly.

So, let’s not waste time worrying about which candidate, if any of them, fills my dreams with joy.  The last candidate who made me feel that way was FDR, and that is simply because I was ten years old and had not yet read Marx.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

BLACK FACE


The revelations in Virginia have been seized upon by commentators as a teachable moment suitable for explaining to clueless white folks why it is unacceptable to wear black face.  But in their eagerness to hammer home the message that one ought not to do it, they have left unanalyzed the obvious and rather deeper question, Why do it?  What is the attraction of putting on black face, of smearing shoe polish [ugh] on one’s face?  I do not think it is difficult to extract from this question an important and long-understood, but too often neglected, element in white Americans’ engagement with slavery and its aftermath.

Let me start with something less weighted with moral significance [and thus less fraughtfraught being the old past participle of to freight, which is to say, to weigh down or load up with heavy storage objects.]  What is the attraction of dressing up on Halloween as ghosts, ghouls, and goblins?  The simple answer is that it is a way of robbing terrifying things of their power to frighten us.  But a more complicated and accurate answer would be that little children [and the rest of us, needless to say] are both frightened of and attracted to their inner desire to “be bad.”  All of us have secret aggressive and sadistic fantasies buried deep in our psyches.  One way of dealing with these desires is to express them in safe, neutered, permitted forms on ritual occasions.  Another way is to project them onto outcast persons and kill those persons or punish them or enslave them or exile them in the pathetic hope that by doing so we will remove those desires from ourselves and be cleansed.  There is nothing peculiarly American about the psychodynamics of these processes.  They are universal.  One need simply read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or The Portrait of Dorian Gray to see them given elegant literary treatment [or Oedipus Rex, for that matter.]

Africans came to the Americas originally as enslaved workers, and slavery was from its inception on this continent a particularly brutal but highly productive form of labor exploitation.  [Those interested in my views on the subject can read Chapter Three of my book Autobiography of an Ex-White Man.]  Generalized bound labor became transformed into racially encoded chattel slavery in the early and middle eighteenth century, and the bodies of Black men and women then became screens onto which were projected the repressed sexual and sadistic fantasies of White men and women.  Black women slaves were routinely raped by White owners.  Black men were fantasized by Whites as both uncontrollably aggressive and as excessively sexual.  White women had frissons of delicious terror at the thought of being raped by Black men with outsized genitalia.  [The irrepressible Mel Brooks captures the fantasy of the monster with a huge penis in his over the top scenes with Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein.]

White people are drawn to Black music, to Black comics, to Black athletes, projecting onto them their fantasies and forbidden desires.  The “one drop” definition of Blackness peculiar to American slavery was both an economically effective way of expanding the supply of slaves and an expression of the attraction and terror of forbidden desires.

That is why White people dress up in black face.

The truth is of course other.  It was expressed best by W. E. B. Du Bois in the Preface to his classic work, Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880:

“I am going to tell this story as though Negroes were ordinary human beings, recognizing that this attitude will from the first seriously curtail my audience.”

A GEEKY QUESTION FOR THE TECHIES IN THE AUDIENCE


When I delete something from my computer, my understanding is that the byte in the first place on that part of the hard drive is changed [to E5?], indicating that the location is available for storage.  Until something else overwrites it, the original material remains.  Now, suppose I write emails, then delete them and empty the trash.  Is the text of those emails at that point actually erased from my email program server?  [I assume it is not stored on my own hard drive.]  Suppose the recipient of the email does the same.  Is there somewhere in the cloud where that data remains?

Am I even asking this question correctly?

PERSONAL UPDATE

Because you were all so sympathetic about my back trouble, I feel I should report that I have been pain free for several days, and it seems to be over.  However, no heavy lifting!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

INSIDE BASEBALL

With candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination popping up like mushrooms after a rain, it is worth noting that in the last two presidential year primaries, between 58% and 62% of the California votes were cast early by mail.  The Iowa caucuses are on February 3, 2020, and the California primary is on March 3 [Super Tuesday], but early voting in California starts the day of the Iowa caucuses.  In other words, it is not the case that someone can spend all of his or her time and money on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina, and therefore hope to do well in California, because by then most of the votes in California will have been cast.

Of course, the first voting and caucusing will be preceded by innumerable debates, during which some hopefuls will flourish and others will wilt.

Bernie is apparently trying to recruit some women and African-Americans for his campaign team to overcome his weakness there.

It remains to be seen whether Trump will make it all the way to 2020.

THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH


I was invited to leave Columbia and join the Philosophy Department of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1970 [although I did not actually make the transition until 1971.]  That year, a small liberal arts experimental college was opened in South Amherst named Hampshire College.  Hampshire was yet another of the countercultural small colleges that have been a feature of the American higher education landscape for several hundred years.  The students at Hampshire assembled “portfolios” instead of satisfying distribution requirements, they received written evaluations rather than grades.  The faculty did not have tenure, but rather multi-year contracts.

From its founding, Hampshire was part of a consortium of Western Massachusetts schools called Five Colleges Inc.  Three of the other four – Amherst, Smith, and Mt. Holyoke – are famous, well-established liberal arts colleges, among the most prestigious in the United States.  The fourth isd UMass, which, when I joined the faculty, was just completing the transition from an 8500 student campus originating as Mass Aggie to the 23,000 student flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts system.  The Five Colleges coordinated their schedules and offered students the opportunity to enroll in courses at any of the schools.  A 5-College free bus ran circular routes among Amherst, Northampton, and South Hadley, carrying students from campus to campus.  [Outsiders assumed that the movement would be from UMass to the elite colleges, but in fact most of the exchanges ran in the other direction, from Amherst or Smith or Mt. Holyoke or Hampshire to UMass.]

Hampshire was by most measures phenomenally successful.  Very high percentages of its graduates went on to take advanced degrees or to start small businesses.  Its most famous graduate, Ken Burns, became an award winning documentary film maker.  The campus offered space to the Yiddish Book Center, a remarkable archive of books, films, and other materials of the Easter European diaspora.

Two days ago, I learned that Hampshire College may be finished.  It is going broke, and has declined to admit a full class of students for next year.  It is seeking a “partnership,” but from this distance, it looks as though it will be closing its doors.

There are well over four thousand colleges and university campuses in the United States, and every year a number of colleges close down.  Half a century is not a bad run, after all.  But it is sad news. 

Sic transit gloria mundi

Friday, February 8, 2019

CASUAL TV OBSERVATION

Acting Attorney general Matthew Whitaker is dumb as a rock.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

DECISIONS, DECISIONS


OK, let me see whether I have this straight.  The Commonwealth of Virginia has moved from deep red to purple to light blue, and we are all giddy with delight that Democrats are making deep inroads into the New South.

The Democratic Governor appears in his medical school yearbook on a page that includes a picture of a man in deep all-over black face and someone in a KKK outfit, and his defense is that the picture is not of him, although he did wear black face in a Michael Jackson competition which he won because he could moonwalk.

The Lieutenant Governor, a rising Democratic star and a Black man, is accused by a Claremont Scripps senior professor, who got her BA at Princeton and her MA and PhD at Chicago, of physically forcing her to perform oral sex on him when they met doing political work.

The Attorney General, also a Democrat and third in line for the Governorship, allows as how, yes, he appeared in black face back in the day.

And the fourth in line for the Governorship is the Republican leader of the Virginia Senate.  Nobody expects anything better of Republicans, so who knows what will surface about him?

Do I have that right?

What to do?  Go with the moonwalker, the sexual assaulter, the black faced Attorney General, or give up on the entire state and try to make up the electoral votes by registering the 1.4 million men and women who just got their voting rights back in Florida.

Lordy, no one said politics was easy.

FOR ANONYMOUS

Anonymous asked me to say something more about marginal productivity.   I did, on 4/27/14 and again on 9/27/18.  [Is there something about the moon on the 27th day of the month?]  Take a look at that and see whether it helps.

FROM EACH ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY


After I went to bed last night, I lay awake thinking about some of what I wanted to say regarding how socialism would work in practice, but when I got up this morning, I discovered that after I had retired for the night [I go to bed at about 8:30 and get up at 4:30] several folks had written comments saying much of what I wanted to write, in particular, william u.  His comments are too long to reproduce here, so let me suggest that interested readers go back and look at the comments to the February 4 post entitled “AND NOW, A RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA.”  I shall be building on what was said there and connecting it to things I have written or that I have been thinking about.

First, a quick word about the phrase “creative destruction” as a description of capitalism.  I associate it with the work of Joseph Schumpeter, but when I read the remarkably good Wikipedia entry on the term, I discovered that it has a considerably richer provenance.  Check it out.

Now, to the matter at hand.  In my paper “The Future of Socialism,” archived at box.net, I began by quoting a famous passage from the Preface of Marx’s 1859 work A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.  Here it is:

“No social order disappears before all of the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed, and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material components of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society.”

This is, I believe, one of the deepest and most important things Marx ever said about capitalism, and my essay is little more than an extended meditation on its implications.  Early 20th century critics of socialism, like Ludwig von Mises, taking the Soviet experiment as their model, argued that since the unfettered market was a more efficient mechanism for attuning supply to demand than a central planning committee could ever be, socialism would inevitably fall short of what could be achieved by capitalism.  In my paper, I argued that von Mises was right about capitalism as it had until that time developed, but that the further development of capitalism had superseded the market as a mechanism for decision-making, so that the internal corporate managers of modern large-scale capitalist enterprises inevitably and unavoidably were compelled to engage in what a Soviet commissar would consider central planning.  The only difference was that while the operations of the firm had been socialized, the ownership and control remained private.  I developed this argument with the help of a rudimentary example and some insights gleaned from the writings of a Canadian theorist of cost accounting.

The enormous growth of capitalist firms and their inevitable internalization of decisions previously made by the impersonal workings of the market was one of the two major developments taking place within the womb of capitalism that, as I saw it, were preparing the way for socialism.  The other, which is the focus of william u’s insightful comment, is the divorce of legal ownership from actual management of modern corporations, first anatomized in the classic 1932 work by A. A. Berle and Gardiner Means, The Modern Corporation and Private Property.  William u. may be a trifle starry-eyed when he says “In a modern economy, the separation of ownership (the shareholders) and management makes the transition from capitalism to market socialism "almost" painless,” although I read that statement as somewhat tongue in cheek, but his instinct is spot on.

Without these two developments, the transition from capitalism to socialism is doomed to failure, for very much the reasons urged by von Mises.  With them, the transition, while hardly inevitable [for the reasons cited in the latter portion of my paper], becomes genuinely possible.

But what of innovation, the creative destruction legitimately celebrated by Schumpeter?  Once again, I cannot do better than quote william u:  “What about entrepreneurship, you ask? Where are the innovative new firms going to come from? Well: what do Silicon Valley entrepreneurs want today? In the short term, they want to attract venture capital; in the long term, they want to go public or sell to the likes of Google. Now, replace the venture capitalists and the IPO buyers with managers of social wealth funds, and replace Google with.... well, the publicly owned version of Google. The entrepreneur, after his successful IPO or sale, can either retire to a well-earned life of leisure (although not as leisurely as now -- maybe mere millions instead of hundreds of millions), stay on as manager, or start his next firm.”

Von Mises was right that nothing beats the market as a measurer of effective consumer demand.  Let the buyers decide whether [to use the example with which I begin my paper] they want Betamax.  Clearly those who manage the social wealth funds must be motivated in some way to search for the most successful entrepreneurial proposals.  I am too old to place my faith in the higher morality of Socialist Man.  There need to be consequences, as there are now, for wrong choices, consequences balanced by rewards for right choices.  Those like myself who are risk averse can choose safer, quieter, less well-compensated careers.

Will this be the embodiment of Marx’s famous slogan, From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs?  No.  But for the purists, I would remind you that this was to be the fundamental principle of communism.  Socialism, the way station to communism, would instantiate a different slogan:  From each according to his ability, to each according to his work.



Tuesday, February 5, 2019

WE ARE WINNING!

The egregious Howard Schultz now says he thinks it is wrong to call him a billionaire.  He says we should call him and others like him "persons of means."  WE ARE WINNING.

INSIDE DOPESTER


The term derives from the work of the late David Riesman.  An inside dopester in politics is someone who knows all the statistics and inside information about politics in the way that a real sports fan knows it for baseball or football.  I am, or aspire to be, an inside dopester in politics.

For some time, I have had a theory – idle speculation, really – about Trump, which I may have mentioned, and I am guessing that it explains the enormous 40 million dollar gap between donations to and expenditures by Trump’s Inauguration committee, the subject  of a wide-ranging subpoena issued today by the office of the Eastern [not Southern] District of New York.

My theory is that Trump is cash poor.  He owns many big buildings, which however are mortgaged to the hilt, but he has a huge nut [i.e., regular monthly expenses] and he desperately needs the flows of cash that come from his franchising of his name and so forth.  He is not a typical rich person in this regard.  The sums he gets from lending his name to steaks, for profit universities, caps, and all are small for someone supposedly as rich as he says he is.  But he needs every penny he can lay his hands on.  I think a large amount of that unaccounted for 40 million found its way into his pocket.

We shall see.

REQUEST FOR HELP

Can anyone tell me what this means:

Following the announcement of Google+ API deprecation scheduled for March 2019, a number of changes will be made to Blogger’s Google+ integration on 4 February 2019. 

Google+ widgets: Support for the “+1 Button”, “Google+ Followers” and “Google+ Badge” widgets in Layout will no longer be available. All instances of these widgets will be removed from your blog. 

+1 buttons: The +1/G+ buttons and Google+ share links below blog posts and in the navigation bar will be removed. 

Please note that if you have a custom template that includes Google+ features, you may need to update your template. Please contact your template supplier for advice. 

Google+ Comments: Support for Google+ comments will be turned down, and all blogs using Google+ comments will be reverted back to using Blogger comments. Unfortunately, comments posted as Google+ comments cannot be migrated to Blogger and will no longer appear on your blog. 


It popped up when I clicked on my blog.

Monday, February 4, 2019

AND NOW, A RESPONSE TO JERRY FRESIA


Jerry Fresia recently made the following comment:  “I'm hung up on how socialists will "banish" the exploitation of workers. Will it be made illegal for the entrepreneurial minded to control the work lives of others?”  This brief remark raises the vexing question of how the socialism we all talk about would actually work.  This is indeed the question if, like me, you think capitalism should be superseded by socialism.  I trust it will surprise no one when I confess that I do not have a snappy answer suitable for being put on a bumper sticker – or even in a fat scholarly tome.  But I think I can say a few things that may help us along the way. 

As I see it, there are really four distinct questions for which we need answers, and a fifth that is a no-brainer but has exercised some people mightily [notably Bob Nozick.]  The four real questions are these:

First:  How will socialism do away with the grotesque inequality of wealth?, a question highlighted by someone’s calculation that currently 23 billionaires have as much wealth as 3.8 billion people.

Second:  How will socialism do away with the very great and seemingly permanent inequality of income that characterizes advanced capitalist economies such as America’s?

Third:  [Jerry’s question]  How will manifestly useful and socially productive entrepreneurial activity be encouraged in a socialist economy without simply setting in motion a reproduction of the inequality of wealth and income done away with by our fantasied socialist revolution?

Fourth:  How will a socialist society keep those charged with managing the economy from looting it to gratify their own greed, thereby realizing Orwell’s dystopian fear that under socialism, some of the animals will be more equal than others?

And finally, the non-question made famous by Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia:  Should we stop fans from voluntarily heaping great wealth on Wilt Chamberlain?  [or LeBron James, or Lady Gaga, or whoever is the latest hot star]?  Only people who are not serious about socialism [or capitalism, for that matter] ask dumb questions like this.  The answer is, Of course not!  Heap away.  Each of us has his or her favorites.  I would rather heap riches on Paul O’Dette than Vin Diesel [although I kind of like Vin Diesel], but that is neither here nor there.  The adoration of fans has nothing to do with socialism, or capitalism, or feudalism, or slavery.  A sensible and attractive socialist society has plenty of room for its sports stars, music stars, movie stars, and television stars, all living the high life, to the delight of their fans.  Socialism need not be puritanical, though it sometimes sounds that way.  Live a little!

Now let me say something very preliminary about each of the four serious questions.

First, the grotesque inequality of wealth.  This inequality arises from three causes:  First, the unstoppable tendency for capital to accumulate over time, making those who own it richer and richer; Second, the conversion of a portion of the profits of capitalist enterprises into huge salaries going to people who are ostensibly employees, a process made possible by the divorce of legal ownership of corporations from de facto day to day control of the corporations; and Third, the inheritance of large accumulations of wealth, which passes into the hands of those who themselves have neither overseen its accumulation as capitalists nor appropriated it in the form of inflated compensation.

If the capital is collectively or socially owned, its natural expansion will accrue to the benefit of all, not to the benefit of a select few who have legal ownership of it.  That, after all, is the central point of socialism.  As for the covert conversion of accumulating capital into excessive salaries for managers, there would have to be strict laws regulating the determination of those salaries and a vigorous, independent press and communications medium to ride herd on the inevitable attempts by those with a public trust to turn it into a private piggy bank.  It is easy to say this, but extremely hard to carry it out in practice.

Second, the steep and seemingly unassailable income pyramid.  This, I believe, is the greatest threat to a successful socialism, and I am nowhere near being able to say how it can be changed and then kept from recreating itself.  A few observations to get a discussion started.  One: In my younger days the pyramid was much less steep.  The compensation of senior managers of ordinary big corporations [as opposed to the flashy name brand corporations still run by their founders, like FaceBook and Amazon] has soared since the ‘50s, when those corporations were quite profitable and as well run as they are now.  Simply going back to those days would be a vast improvement.  Two:  the best really big corporate organization in the United States is the U. S. Military, whatever you think about what it does in the world.  The pay structure for senior officers is pitiful by comparison with the corporate pay structure.  Three:  As I have observed here recently, the marginal product justification for the salaries of upper middle class workers, like professors, doctors, et al., is nonsense.  So is the claim that those salaries are necessary compensation for the costs of a college education.  The pay differentials required to draw folks into what we used to call white collar jobs, if indeed any differentials at all are required to get the right people in the right jobs, are nowhere near as large as those that now exist.  Well, there is much more to be said here.

Third, the need to encourage and elicit entrepreneurial energy, talent, imagination, and effort [Jerry’s concern.]  I do not know the answer to this, but I think it may well be necessary to make socialism compatible with major rewards to entrepreneurship.  This will inevitably create a moneyed class [as well as some losers, of course.]  There will thus be some significant inequality in a healthy socialist economy.  But if ownership of the means of production is not inheritable, then private capital accumulation will be limited.   So maybe Jeff Bezos will become incredibly rich, but neither his children [does he have any?] nor anyone else will come into ownership of Amazon.com when he dies.  I think we socialists can live with that.

And finally Four:  How do we keep the whole system from turning into a kleptocracy?  Lord knows, capitalism is, as was feudalism before it.  I no more believe in the incorruptible nobility of Socialist Man than I believe in the incorruptibility of those washed in the blood of the Savior.  Eternal vigilance will be called for, I imagine.  It certainly is now.

Well, my back trouble has returned, so I shall bring this to a close and lie down.