Saturday, June 10, 2017

A political economy

A recent piece in the Economist (A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital”, May 20, 2107) ends with these words: "Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if they can describe how capitalism works only when politics is unchanging."

The article reviews After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality a book that collects reactions by several economists to Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century and it's central thesis that historically, the rate of return on capital has been greater than the growth rate.

The closing words of the review reaffirm a pet idea of mine. The separation of economics and politics is a mistake. In the universities, they're different departments. You'll hear no end of the Chicago-school lament that, "If the government would just stay out of the way, the economy would sort itself out!"

But, power and money are fungible. Money can buy access to power and influence over its exercise. The existence of the lobbying industry proves it. And, power can be used to acquire wealth in ways ranging from taxation to the business empire of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Power and wealth are two sides to the same coin. What is money other than the power to command resources?

From another point of view, both the economy and the political sphere are complex systems. Characteristics of such systems include that they are composed of many densely connected interacting parts and that they exhibit direct and indirect reactions to any perturbation. Second and higher order effects are significant, sometimes even dominant. Politics and money are deeply interconnected, and there's no reason to suppose the propagation of effects would politely stop at the border.

Imagining the economy in isolation from politics can be useful, the way a frictionless plane is useful in physics - as a device to make the math easier. But it shouldn't be forgotten that in reality there's no such thing.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Rollback of the Fiduciary Rule

For those keeping track, back on February 3rd, Trump signed an execute of order targeting the Dodd-Frank Act, the tepid financial reform passed to try and prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis and its trillion dollar bail-out of Wall Street.

The lady in green seems very pleased. That's Representative Ann Wagner, Republican of Missouri's 2nd district, who called rolling back the fiduciary rule “a labor of love for me.” Coincidentally, donors with names like Jones Financial Companies, Northwestern Mutual, Wells Fargo, Financial Services Institute PAC showed Wagner a lot of love in the form of campaign funds.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Congress rolls back Internet privacy

The Republican Congress proves again that they care more about wishes of corporations than the best interests of constituents.

The Senate has sided with the telecoms industry in a bill that lets internet service providers decrypt private traffic, collect personal information, and sell your data to marketers and others.

S.J.Res.34 - A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to "Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services".

It looks like practically all Republican Senators and all but 15 Republican Representatives voted for the bill, all Democrats voted against.

Net neutrality is next in their sites.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


How best to resist the slide of our country into tribal politics?

During the coming years, citizens of the US will need to work to keep our basic civil liberties. We need to form new institutions to counter corruption, machine politics and propaganda, figuring out as we go what those new institutions will look like and how they'll work in the new environment we're in.

Start by getting some understanding of how politics and civil society work. TODO add to this list:

Supporting existing orgs won't be enough, but it's an important start:

Question: Are there any organizations in the clean government space that are truly non-partisan and respected by reasonable people on both sides of the aisle?

A political economy

A recent piece in the Economist ( A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital” , May 20, 2107) ends with these words: &q...