This time, especially worth reading and sharing articles:
This time, especially worth reading and sharing articles:
In 2002, twelve years after Margaret Thatcher left office, she was asked at a dinner what was her greatest achievement. Thatcher replied: “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds.” (Conor Burns, April 11, 2008)
On 6 October 2015, a great theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking conducted a special Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Out of the thousands of submitted issues, Hawking selected those he wished to reply, mainly discussing aspects of artificial intelligence. In conclusion, Hawking picked a question about technological unemployment and ended with an insightful alarming observation on socio-economic and political trajectories:
Q: Have you thought about the possibility of technological unemployment, where we develop automated processes that ultimately cause large unemployment by performing jobs faster and/or cheaper than people can perform them? Some compare this thought to the thoughts of the Luddites, whose revolt was caused in part by perceived technological unemployment over 100 years ago. In particular, do you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated?
Stephen Hawking: “If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.” (The original Reddit thread)
Apparently, every brief history of time is the history of class struggles…
by Eli Cook*
Unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, the world of economic quantification was dominated by men in the nineteenth century. In honor of International Women’s Day, here is a story, excerpted from my book The Pricing of Progress, on Leonora Barry, one of the most important – and forgotten – economic thinkers of Gilded Age America.
An Irish immigrant, Barry was widowed in 1881. “I was left, without knowledge of business, without knowledge of work, without knowledge of what the world was, with three fatherless children looking to me for bread,” Barry would later note. These miserable conditions likely led to the death of her eldest child.
Desperate to find work to keep her other children alive, she got a job at a hosiery mill, where she made 11 cents a day. It was while working at the mill that she joined the Knights of Labor — the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the 1880s. Barry had a knack for labor organizing and within two years found herself not only the master workman of her own branch but the leader of an entire district assembly of fifty-two locals.
She was elected to represent her region at the national general assembly in 1886, where she was one of sixteen women among 660 delegates. While at the national assembly, Barry was made head of the new Department of Women’s Work. Her main mission was to traverse the country collecting statistics on women’s labor that would reveal “the abuses to which our sex is subjected by unscrupulous employers” and the need for “equal pay for equal work.”
By the late 1880s, Barry had become renowned for the statistical reports she compiled for annual general assemblies. With an arresting depiction of the condition of women’s labor in America, Barry’s reports combined statistical data with a strong moral critique of industrial capitalism. Her reports focused on both the laborer’s wages and the employer’s profits, which enabled her to measure the level of exploitation at the American workplace.
“The contractor who employed five operatives made 30 cents per unit, or 1.50 a day,” she noted in one example, “while each worker received only 30 cents for the entire day’s work.” “Men’s vests are contracted out at 10 cents each,” she noted in a second example, “the machine operative receiving 2.5 cents and the finisher 2.5 cents each, making 5 cents a vest for completion.” Since twenty vests constituted a day’s work, Barry calculated, “a contractor who employed five operatives reaped a dollar a day for doing nothing while his victim has 50 cents for eleven and twelve hours of her life’s energies.”
By the 1890s, however, Barry was once again forced to return to the factory. With the Knights of Labor all but destroyed, there were no statistical institutions through which she could make her voice, and those of countless other women, heard. Nevertheless, in the Progressive Era, statistic-wielding labor activists such as Florence Kelley and Crystal Eastman would follow Leonora Barry‘s trailblazing example.
* Eli Cook is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Haifa. He is the author of The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life (Harvard University Press, 2017)
Dear ES/PE community member, see below an abundant list of great academic opportunities: 25 calls for papers for conferences and workshops (some are fully or partially funded), 8 doctoral fellowships, 6 postdoctoral positions, 3 job openings, 3 summer schools (fully or partly funded), 3 awards, 2 research grants — in various areas of economic sociology, political economy, and related fields, with March 5 — 31 deadlines. Share this post with your colleagues and students. Good luck!
Calls for papers:
> CfP: “Financialization and development policies: Critical perspectives on new financial circuits for international development projects” conference, University of Hamburg (Germany), 12-14 September 2018. A limited number of grants are available to cover travel and residence costs. DL: March 6
> CfP: “Institutions and The Future of Global Capitalism“, the 5th World Interdisciplinary Network for Institutional Research conference, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 14-17 September, 2018. The keynoters are Lynda Weiss, Xu Chenggang, Justin Yifu Lin. DL: March 10
> CfP: “The State of Capitalism and the State of Political Economy“, the 9th International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy conference, University of Pula (Pula, Croatia), September 12-14, 2018. Various working groups issued thematic calls. DL: March 15
> CfP: “Educational Inequality: Mechanisms and Institutions“, Amsterdam Centre for Inequality Studies conference, University of Amsterdam, 5-6 July, 2018. The keynoters are Marius Busemeyer, Michelle Jackson, Ludger Wößmann. DL: March 15
> CfP: “Whatever Has Happened to Political Economy?“, The 15th Italian Association for the History of Political Economy conference, Università di Genova (Genoa, Italy), June 28-30, 2018. The keynoters are Geoffrey Hodgson and Harro Maas. Scholarships for junior scholars are available. DL: March 15
> CfP: “Feminist Debates on Migration, Inequalities & Resistance“, the 27th International Association for Feminist Economics conference, State University of New York at New Paltz ( New Paltz, New York), 19-21 June, 2018. The Rhonda Williams Prize given to scholars from underrepresented groups. DL: March 15
> CfP: “Effective Financial Capability Interventions for Economically Vulnerable Individuals and Families“, The Journal of Consumer Affairs‘ special issue and the US Treasury Department’s Financial Literacy and Education commission symposium, Washington, D.C (USA), Fall 2018. March 16
> CfP: “Consuming In, and Consumed By, a Trump Economy”, one-day pre-American Sociological Association mini-conference by the Consumers and Consumption section, Rutgers University (NJ, USA), August 10, 2018. DL: March 16
> CfP: “Transforming Cities: Urbanization and International Development Policies in the Global South in the 20th Century” conference, Freie Universität Berlin, 11-12 October, 2018. Participants will be reimbursed for travel expenses and accommodation. DL: March 18
> CfP: “Growth, History and Development”, The 9th Historical Economics and Development Group workshop, the University of Southern Denmark (Odense, Denmark), June 4, 2018. The keynoter is Noam Yuchtman. No registration fees; lunch and dinner are provided. DL: March 23
> CfP: “The moral dimensions of economic life in Africa” workshop, The Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala (Sweden). Some funding from is available for a few scholars who need support; scholars based in African institutions are particularly encouraged to apply and an effort will be made to support their participation. DL: March 28
> CFP: The 10th Critical Finance Studies Conference, University of Gothenburg (Sweden), 9-11 August, 2018. The keynoters are Saskia Sassen, Orsi Husz, Brett Christophers. The conference is free of charge. DL: March 30
> CfP: “Power and Governance: Forms, Dynamics, Consequences” conference, University of Tampere (Tampere, Finland), 27–29 August 2018. The keynoters are Gili Drori, Vivien A. Schmidt, Sylvia Walby, and more. DL: March 30
> CfP: “Making & Doing Technoscientific Futures Better“, the 6th Annual Workshop on The Changing Political Economy of Research & Innovation, Lancaster University (Lancaster, UK), 23-24 July 2018. The workshop will be held before the EASST conference. The keynoters are Susan Robertson and Mark Carrigan. DL: March 30
> CfP: “Evolutionary foundations at a crossroad: Assessments, outcomes and implications for policy makers“, the 30th European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy conference, University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis (Nice, France), 6-8 September, 2018. The keynoters are Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter. There are various research areas including economic sociology, institutional change, comparative political economy, and more. DL: March 31
> CfP: The 19th Conference of the International Association for the Economics of Participation, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), July 12-14, 2018. The keynoters are Jan Svejnar and Avner Ben-Ner. A partial reimbursement is available for participants from developing economies and students. DL: March 31
> Doctoral Fellowships at the Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies, Sciences Po (Paris, France). Research topics should be situated in economic sociology, political economy, or economic or political history. DL: March 15. Recommended.
> PhD Scholarship on “Informality, informal or shadow economies, with a specific focus on the former USSR region“, Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction, Dublin City University (Ireland). DL: March 22
> 3 PhD positions within the project “Legitimacy, Financialization, and Varieties of Capitalism: Understanding Sovereign Wealth Funds in Europe” at the Maastricht University (The Netherlands). PhD position 1 – “Global Political Economy“; PhD position 2 – “International Political Economy“; PhD position 3 – “Comparative Political Economy“. DL: March 28
> CfA: “Historical perspectives on neoliberalism: Political Economy and Social history since 1970” PhD seminar, Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies (Sciences Po, Paris), May 16-18, 2018. No participation fees; travel and accommodation costs will be covered. DL: March 15. Recommended.
> CfA: “Doing Research with Social Network Analysis: Tools, Theories and Applications” summer school for researchers and students, Thuke Centre for Business Network Analysis at the University of Greenwich (London, UK), 13-15 June, 2018. Fee includes breakfasts and lunches.
> Professorship in Sociology with a focus on Digitalization and Industrial Development (full-time, permanent), The Faculty of Social Sciences, Economics and Business at the Johannes Kepler University of Linz (Austria). DL: March 8
> Early stage researcher to work on “The impact of economic populism on inequality” as part of the FATIGUE project (three-year position), Corvinus University of Budapest (Years 1 and 3) and University College London (Year 2). DL: March 15
> Early stage researcher to work on ” The impact of economic populism on growth and convergence” at FATIGUE project (3-year position), Corvinus University of Budapest (Years 1 & 3) & University College London (Year 2). DL: March 15
> Postdoctoral Research Fellow to explore ethnographically how energy analysts and traders in the financial sector conceptualise and value oil (3-year position), the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews (Scotland, UK). DL: March 16
This time, especially worth reading – and sharing – articles:
> The parallel languages of responsibility (as a demand aimed at the poor) and privilege (a charge lobbed at the rich) benefit the elites by requiring that rewards be given to those who “deserve” them, instead of pushing for structural reforms — by Sean McCann
An eminent Saxon scholastic theologian Hugh of Saint-Victor (1096 – 1141) noted in his monumental encyclopedic treatise Didascalion:
“All the world is a foreign soil to those who philosophize… It is, therefore, a great source of virtue for the practiced mind to learn, bit by bit, first to change about in visible and transitory things, so that afterwards it may be able to leave them behind altogether. The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his. From boyhood I have dwelt on foreign soil, and I know with what grief sometimes the mind takes leave of the narrow hearth of a peasant’s hut, and I know, too, how frankly it afterwards disdains marble firesides and panelled halls.”
Hugh of Saint-Victor. 1961. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts, translated by Jerome Taylor. Columbia University Press. (Page 101)
by Martijn Konings*
If there is one theme that unites the various critiques of contemporary finance, it is the emphasis on its speculative character. Financial growth is said to be driven not by the logic of efficient markets, but rather by irrational sentiment, “animal spirits” that do not respect fundamental values.
Emphasizing the role of volatility in contemporary capitalism (evident at the time of writing, as the stock market is experiencing a downturn) is important as an antidote to notions of market efficiency and equilibrium. But it is a mistake to think that it provides a sufficient basis for effective critique. Predictions regarding the limits or collapse of neoliberal finance have simply not enjoyed a good track record. Over and over, the contemporary financial system has proven capable of sustaining higher levels of speculative activity than anticipated. This has certainly been true of the past decade. Capital and Time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason is my attempt to make sense of this—that is, to understand what might be wrong or missing in the existing heterodox critique of speculation, and to advance a more accurate understanding of the role of uncertainty, risk, and speculation in contemporary capitalism.
At the heart of the critique of speculation we find a distinction between real and fictitious forms of value. Although “essentialist” (or “foundationalist”) modes of explanation have been under fire across the social sciences for several decades now, when it comes to the critique of finance they have had considerable staying-power: without a notion of real value, it often seems, we lose any objective standard against which to assess the speculative gyrations of capitalist markets.
Capital and Time asks what kind of critical theory we might develop if we bracket the anxious attachment to a notion of fundamental value. To that end, it turns to the work of economist Hyman Minsky. Although Minsky has been popularized precisely as a critic of speculation, he in fact insisted that almost all value judgments and investments were to some degree speculative—their success or failure would be determined in an unknown future. For him, the key economic question is how order emerges in a world that offers no guarantees, how more or less stable standards and norms arise amidst uncertainty.
Of course, the “endogenous” origin of financial standards is a well-rehearsed theme in heterodox economics—indeed, it is a staple of the “post-Keynesian” literature that claims Minsky’s legacy. But such perspectives have never been able to break with the idea that financial stability is at its core dependent on external interventions that suppress speculative impulses. For Minsky, however, this is to miss the point about endogeneity. To his mind, there was no clear dividing line between financial practices and their governance: central banks and other public authorities are no more able to see into the future and to transcend uncertainty than private investors are.
Minsky was therefore highly skeptical about official claims of discretionary precision management: financial governance is always embroiled in the very risk logic that it is charged with managing. That also means that financial policy can appear quite ordinary, even banal: at the heart of capitalist financial management is a logic of backstopping and bailout that responds to the possibility that the failure of an institution may take down wider financial structures.
The stability of the post-New Deal financial system is often attributed to the Glass-Steagall separation of the stock market and commercial banking. But Minsky tended to view Glass-Steagall as one of several measures to direct bank credit away from the stock market towards other, no less speculative ends, notably consumer and mortgage financing. To his mind, the stability of the post-war period derived rather from the creation of an extensive financial safety net (which included, for instance, deposit insurance, which removed the rationale behind bank runs) that served to socialize risk.
This institutional arrangement turned out to have a significant drawback: a pattern of chronic inflation emerged that, by the late 1970s, was widely perceived as a major problem. Minsky’s lack of faith in the possibility of cleanly staged external interventions led him to feel that that there was no real way out of this predicament. Monetarist doctrines, ascendant during the 1970s under the influence of Milton Friedman, relied on exactly the belief in an arbitrarily defined monetary standard that Minsky rejected as naïve. Muddling through, it seemed, was the price of avoiding another financial crash and depression.
The Volcker shock of 1979 changed this dynamic in a way that Minsky had not foreseen but that is comprehensible when seen through the lens he provided us with. Paul Volcker looked to monetarism not as a means to enforce an external limit or standard on the financial system, but as a politically expedient way to break with accommodating policies and to proactively engage the endogenous dynamics of finance. The consequences of the Volcker shock were predictable (which is exactly why the Federal Reserve had been reluctant to pursue similar policies in previous years): inflation gave way to instability and crisis. Inflation was conquered as jobs were lost and wages stagnated. And, far from money being returned to its neutral exchange function, opportunities for speculation multiplied.
The American state was never going to sit idly by as the financial system returned to dynamics of boom and bust: when instability took the form of systemic threats, authorities would bail out the institutions that had overextended themselves. Of course, Volcker would not have been able to predict the specific features of the too-big-to-fail regime as it emerged during the 1980s and evolved subsequently; but the very point of the neoliberal turn in financial management that he had overseen was to create a context where risk could be socialized in ways that were more selective and therefore did not entail generalized inflation.
The inflation of asset values that has been such a marked feature of the past four decades has always been premised centrally on the willingness of authorities to view the “moral hazard” of the too-big-to-fail logic as a policy instrument—even if they may have decried it officially as a regrettable corruption of market principles. Spectacular bailouts, mundane policies to protect the key nodes of the payment systems, the “Greenspan put”, the different iterations of quantitative easing—these are all variations on that basic too-important-to-fail logic.
Existing critical perspectives tend to view crisis and the need for bank bailouts as manifesting the essential incoherence of neoliberal finance, its lack of solid foundations and the irrationality of speculation. Capital and Time breaks with such moralistic assessments. The way deepening inequality and the speculative growth of asset values continue to feed off each other is troubling for any number of reasons, but there is nothing inherently “unsustainable” about it—the process does not have a natural or objective limit.
At this point in time, the critique of speculation does little more than lend credibility to official discourses that present crises as preventable and bailouts as one-off, never-to-be-repeated interventions. In that way, it prevents us from critically relating to a neoliberal reality that has been shaped to its core by the speculative exploitation of risk and uncertainty, and in which regressive risk socialization serves as the everyday logic of financial governance.
* Martijn Konings is Associate Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of The Emotional Logic of Capitalism and Capital and time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason. This post originally appeared on the Stanford University Press blog