Where slavery thrived, inequality rules today

More than a century later, some experts say, a terrible institution is still exacting its price.

By Stephen Mihm  AUGUST 24, 2014

EARLIER THIS MONTH, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services, a credit rating firm that rarely weighs in on social issues, published a scathing report on income inequality and social mobility in the United States. The firm warned that current levels of inequality were “dampening” growth, and predicted that “inequalities will extend into the next generation, with diminished opportunities for upward social mobility.”

This unusual report on inequality, like Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book on the same subject, addresses unequal fortunes, declining mobility, and stagnating economic growth as national or even global problems, which demand similarly large-scale solutions. But scholars are also well aware that these problems vary greatly from place to place. Consider a recent, much-publicized study of social mobility by economist Raj Chetty and his colleagues at Harvard and Berkeley. As the illuminating map generated by that study shows, children born in some regions—Salt Lake City and San Jose, Calif., for example—have a reasonable shot of moving up the social ladder. By contrast, many parts of the former Confederacy, it seems, are now the places where the American dream goes to die.

Why is that true? At first blush, you might guess race could explain the variation. When the study’s authors crunched the data, they found that the larger the black population in any given county, the lower the overall social mobility. But there was more to the story than blacks unable to break the cycle of poverty. In a passing comment, Chetty and his co-authors observed that “both blacks and whites living in areas with large African-American populations have lower rates of upward income mobility.” Far from being divergent, the fates of poor blacks and poor whites in these regions are curiously, inextricably, intertwined.

Institutions are Built to Maintain, Automate Collective Action

Slavers Built Inegalitarian Institutions

Instead of chalking it up to race, recent research points toward a more startling and somewhat controversial explanation: When we see broad areas of inequality in America today, what we are actually seeing is the lingering stain of slavery. Since 2002, with increasing refinement in the years since, economic historians have argued that the “peculiar institution,” as it was once called, is dead but not gone. Today, in the 21st century, it still casts an economic shadow over both blacks and whites: “Slavery,” writes Harvard economist Nathan Nunn, “had a long-term effect on inequality as well as income.”

His work is representative of a new, more historical direction within economics. Its proponents believe that institutions devised centuries ago tend to persist, structuring economic reality in the 21st century in ways that are largely invisible. Their hope is that, by tracing these connections between past and present, they may be able to point the way toward more effective solutions to today’s seemingly intractable economic problems.

Engerman & Sokoloff’s (2002) Institutional-econ Hypothesis Explains Inequality and Economic Stagnation

IN 2002, two economic historians, Stanley Engerman and Kenneth Sokoloff, published an influential paper that tried to answer a vexing question: why are some countries in the Americas defined by far more extreme and enduring levels of inequality—and by extension, limited social mobility and economic underdevelopment—than others?

The answer, they argued, lay in the earliest history of each country’s settlement. The political and social institutions put in place then tended to perpetuate the status quo. They concluded that societies that began “with extreme inequality tended to adopt institutions that served to advantage members of the elite and hamper social mobility.” This, they asserted, resulted in economic underdevelopment over the long run.

More specifically, they observed that regions where sugar could be profitably grown invariably gave rise to societies defined by extreme inequality. The reason, they speculated, had to do with the fact that large-scale sugar plantations made intensive use of slave labor, generating institutions that privileged a small elite of white planters over a majority of black slaves. These institutions, their later work suggested, could encompass everything from property rights regimes to tax structures to public schools.

Harvard economist Nathan Nunn offered a more detailed statistical analysis of this “Engerman-Sokoloff hypothesis” in a paper first published in 2008. His research confirmed that early slave use in the Americas was correlated with poor long-term growth. More specifically, he examined county-level data on slavery and inequality in the United States, and found a robust correlation between past reliance on slave labor and both economic underdevelopment and contemporary inequality. He disagreed with Engerman and Sokoloff’s claim that it was only large-scale plantation slavery that generated these effects; rather, he found, any kind of slavery seemed to have begotten long-term economic woes.

Nunn also offered a more precise explanation for present-day troubles. In Engerman and Sokoloff’s narrative, slavery led to inequality, which led to economic underdevelopment. But when Nunn examined levels of inequality in 1860—as measured by holdings of land—these proved a poor predictor of future problems. Only the presence of slavery was a harbinger of problems. “It is not economic inequality that caused the subsequent development of poor institutions,” wrote Nunn. “Rather, it was slavery itself.”

Soares, Assuncao & Goulart (2012) clarify that not race but slavery intensity begets long-term economic inequality

This finding was echoed in a study by Brazilian economists Rodrigo Soares, Juliano Assunção, and Tomás Goulart published in the Journal of Comparative Economics in 2012. Soares and his colleagues examined the connection between historical slavery and contemporary inequality in a number of countries, largely in Latin America. The authors found a consistent correlation between the existence—and intensity—of slavery in the past and contemporary inequality. Moreover, this relationship was independent of the number of people of African descent living there today. As Soares said in an interview, “Societies that used more slavery are not more unequal simply because they have relatively more black people.”

The question, then, is how exactly did slavery have this effect on contemporary inequality? Soares and his colleagues speculated that limited political rights for slaves and their descendants played a role, as did negligible access to credit and capital. Racial discrimination, too, would have played a part, though this would not explain why whites born in former slaveholding regions might find themselves subject to higher levels of inequality.

Inequality-transmission Mechanism: Public Institutions are Stunted in Slavery Zones

The Toll of Inegalitarian Anti-public Institutions Over Time: A Dearth of Public Infrastructure Translates Inegalitarian Economic Growth into Economic Stagnation

Nunn, though, advanced an additional explanation, pointing to an idea advanced by Stanford economic historian Gavin Wright in 2006.

In lands turned over to slavery, Wright had observed, there was little incentive to provide so-called public goods—schools, libraries, and other institutions—that attract migrants. In the North, by contrast, the need to attract and retain free labor in areas resulted in a far greater investment in public goods—institutions that would, over the succeeding decades, offer far greater opportunities for social mobility and lay the foundation for sustained, superior economic growth.

As it happens, a contemporary critic of slavery took it upon himself to measure some of these differences between North and South. In 1857, a Southerner named Hinton Rowan Helper published an incendiary book titled “The Impending Crisis.” Though a virulent racist, Helper was no friend of slavery, and he quantified in excruciating detail the relative number of schools, libraries, and other institutions in both free and slaveholding states, finding time and again that his region failed to measure up to the North.

In Pennsylvania he found 393 public libraries, but in South Carolina, a mere 26. In the South, he observed, “the common school-house, the poor man’s college, is hardly known, showing how little interest is felt in the chief treasures of the State, the immortal minds of the multitude who are not born to wealth.”

Antisociological Denouement, or Even Institutional Economists are Professionally, Dogmatically Adverse to Admitting Preferences Are Socially-constructed through History

Institutionalized Hegemony Can Divorce People from Their Own Interests: Southern Whites Surprised to Find They Benefit When Public Institutions Imposed

WHAT SOMEONE like Helper may not have foreseen is that the abolition of slavery would not cure these ills. The destruction of slavery did not destroy all the political institutions, social mores, and cultural traditions that sustained it. Nor did it make public institutions, of the kind that the north had been building for decades, suddenly come into being.

This notion about the “persistence” of economic institutions is part of a larger dialogue within economics. Economists ranging from MIT’s Daron Acemoglu to Harvard’s Melissa Fisher have examined how institutions and practices adopted centuries ago can shape economic reality. But not everyone buys the idea that the past can structure the present in such an enduring, predictable fashion. Wright is among the critics of this approach; he is skeptical of Engerman and Sokoloff’s hypothesis. “The persistence of inequality per se is a myth,” he says, pointing to research that highlights the degree to which inequality has ebbed and flowed in Latin America.

Wright counts himself “unconvinced” regarding comparable claims about the United States. “No doubt slavery has played some kind of background role,” he concedes. But he sees the relationship between historical slavery and contemporary inequality as an interesting correlation, not a directly causal one. Correlating one variable with another across the centuries “isn’t the same as writing history,” he notes. “If you don’t connect the dots, you’re just groping.”

Another criticism of the “persistence” school is that it may justify passivity. If counties or countries have always been poor or unequal because of something that happened so long ago, what chance do contemporary policy makers have at deflecting the dead hand of the past?

But there is room for hope, as Wright’s own research would suggest. In “Sharing the Prize,” an economic history of the civil rights movement published in 2013, Wright found that efforts to end discrimination paid substantial, enduring benefits to black Southerners. Perhaps more surprisingly, he found that the movement benefited whites, too. Many poorer whites found that that the destruction of the old order—the end of poll taxes, for example—ushered in increased levels of public funding for schools, newfound political power, and a host of other economic, political, and educational benefits, particularly in the years immediately following the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Positive Affirmations for Liberals

That revolution, of course, is still a work in progress. As we’ve been reminded over the last two weeks by the clashes in Ferguson, Mo., between mostly black protesters and a mostly white police force, there’s a long way to go before the vestiges of slavery are fully and finally made a thing of the past. But this new body of research may help us grasp that solutions to persistent inequality will require more focused policies. Increasing the level of food stamps, as economist Paul Krugman has suggested, might help, but it is perhaps too diffuse and indiscriminate a solution.

Instead, the best way to deal with the lingering effects of dead institutions like slavery may be to create regional institutions aimed to promoting social mobility and economic growth. Georgia, for example, has tried to level the field with the “HOPE Scholarship,” which enables high schoolers with a “B” average or higher to attend in-state public colleges and universities for free and private in-state schools at a heavy discount.

Such programs, with some modifications, could go a long way toward promoting social mobility in the former slaveholding regions of the United States. That’s not to say that the problems will be easy to solve. But the progress we’ve already made, both politically and economically, would suggest that while we may live in slavery’s shadow, we are not prisoners of the past, either.

Stephen Mihm is an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, and co-author, with Nouriel Roubini, of “Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance” (2010).

This article was published online in the Boston Globe in 2014; but as of 2019 it is no longer available online, so I have added it here. I have added my own subtitles to help Sociologists navigate through Mihm’s disciplinary metaphysics and personal politics.

References

Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez. 2014. “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States.”

(Note for Community Economic Development research: Patrick Kline is the econometrician in this group. He also publishes comparative economic assessments of “place-based policies.”)

Engerman, Stanley and Kenneth Sokoloff. 2002. “Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development Among New World Economics.” NBER Working Paper 9259.

Helper, Hinton Rowan. 1857. The Impending Crisis of the South. New York.

Mihm, Stephen. 2007. A Nation Of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, And The Making Of The United States. Harvard.

Nunn, Nathan. 2008. The Long Term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades. Quarterly Journal of Economics 123 (1) : 139-176.

Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the 21st Century.

Soares, Rodrigo, Juliano Assunção, and Tomás Goulart. 2012. “A Note on Slavery and the Roots of Inequality.” Journal of Comparative Economics 40(4):565–580.

Wright, Gavin. 2006. (Note: Berkeley’s Wright is retired. I cannot locate this reference. Might have to email Mihm.)

Wright, Gavin. 2013. Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South. Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

 

MMT as a tactic toward challenging rentier capitalism and its production of social and ecological crises

We are dominated by rentier capitalists, see here and here. That is why we are unable to pursue ecologically-rational and socially-rational policy changes. One tactic forwarded toward changing this rolling crisis is MMT . After all, given climate change is such a crisis that we’re being asked to to build nuclear plants and shoot people onto Mars, we should be able to tackle an extremely problematic social group we host, the rentier capitalists, coordinating capital and enforcing the accumulation-maximizing policy and institutions behind climate crisis.

People against MMT argue that capitalists create value or wealth, and states are totally epiphenomenal to that. They argue that if states–even the United States, the origin and capitalist-trusted protector of the global currency–ignore capital strike (the irrational diversions from managing liquidity for productive investment, including diverting  privatized wealth to rivalristic speculative claims on public wealth and future worker income; paying off a guard-dog layer cake of police, war, comms, and FIRE rentiers for their cooperation; hoarding; and so on) and strategically print money to fund socially- and environmentally-rational production, that will structurally cause inflation. These finance spokesgentlemen are arguing that financial rentiers are society’s only protection from price gouging–that is to say, workers demanding a larger share of society’s wealth, “forcing” global capitalists to fight “back” with price gouging (as well as asset-inflationary privatizations of public wealth).  Yes, that is a protection racket. But does the state today, particularly the American state, really have no capacity to modify financialized capitalism’s mafioso imposition?

Not only labor and appropriated ecological- and human-organized work provide the security underlying rents. Also states, particularly that old labor camp prison guard to the world, the United States, play a rather central role in often-forcibly securing the wealth and productive capacity that also is crucial to providing the underlying security for the capitalist class’ rivalristic claims on all that wealth. I think the anti-MMT arguments are a whole theoretical hodge-podge (A handful of class-technocratic warrior neoclassical economics! A dash of romantic structural Marxism! Who cares if the assumptions clash? We’re living in capitalism!) mess of marketeering junk on behalf of finance and against ecological and social change. But there are still important concerns to be worked out, and these involve high-stakes political strategy.

The main thing to recognize about inflation is, all capitalist theory aside, inflation is not necessarily structurally determined. Inflation is also a manipulable political tool for controlling states and territories through populations. In capitalism, capitalists have many degrees of strategic freedom. Highly-coordinated business has strategies besides capital strike. These financially-coordinated capitalist strategies include the capacity to raise prices–to induce inflation until the working class and any working-class accountable state institutions cry uncle and submit. Finance is the organizer of capitalists. We live in an era of financial penetration and domination.

Nixon’s corporate pricing board experiment, and capital’s subsequent refusal to cooperate, showed this to be the case. On the other hand, Nixon was unwilling to get back in there and use the state to bring capitalists back to heel because Nixon was an ideological inegalitarian and pro-capitalist. (And also, because capitalists and their police state are a mafia, Nixon was probably threatened with assassination, or even, like, job loss. JK! Kinda.)

MMT is structurally correct–state debt as a limit is a moral and political variable in the country producing and circulating the global currency.  Implementing policy based on MMT, particularly in a country of exorbitant privilege, could be feasible. But history has shown that the problem of implementing MMT -backed policy simply would be: Is there a way to disrupt or outmanoeuver finance’s capacity to coordinate capitalists to choke out MMT-fueled egalitarian and ecological reform, such as The Green New Deal?

This problem is all Kalecki: I am assuming that capitalists value above all (their ultimate use value is) control over the surplus and the conditions for the reproduction of exploitation and appropriation. So capitalists, particularly those who rely on the US for their wealth appropriation, have insufficient incentive to support pro-ecological and pro-social change. They would much rather wreck the Earth and shoot workers onto Mars, which would be a worse place for humans to live than Winnipeg. This Marxist assumption is borne out in the angry business comms reaction to MMT and the Green New Deal. Moreover, as the US protects global capitalist citizenship, not territorial citizenship, the US incentivizes and attracts the globe’s most antisocial capitalists–those who do not have to live with the social and environmental destruction their strategies create. By calling capital’s bluff, MMT exposes Americans’ conflict with the ultimate capitalist thugs (home-cultivated and beckoned), an over-fed, over-bred, over-cosseted, all-consuming moth blanket devouring the US and the globe…all for the glory of bigger yacht rivalry and owning New Zealand.

However, this is not the Nixon era. For example, today capitalists already compete with each other to capture the future income streams provided by running a mass consumption economy on credit (debt) rather than income, and that highly-coercive private financial appropriation of future popular wealth has already given us enormous asset inflation, as individual asset owners are relieved of current structural limits like income stagnation. What would it look like to have commodity inflation on top of a mountain of asset inflation at the investment- and currency-core of the global capitalist system? That sounds mighty disruptive to me–sure, terrible for the working class, who by structural definition don’t own enough to protect themselves in capitalism…but it also looks like global capital wouldn’t even be able to see the US as a reliable chain gang boss to send their investment capital to anymore.

Because society in the resource-rich US has been organized and disorganized for this very purpose, the US state has small interest in losing the exorbitant privilege status. But in terms of credible threat and degrees of freedom to pursue more developmental and repairing social and environmental policy, the US state could probably bargain a lot better with global capital if its conservative political rentier class were increasingly sidelined. There probably is no ready substitute for the US as the capitalist stronghold. Starting with an imperial Presidency and antidemocratic judiciary, slavery, the Federalist framework and inter-state rivalry, the US worked long and hard to form itself into a giant, once-gilded, increasingly bare-life, militarized working-class prison. (The very structure that permits exceptional, meritorious metropole cosmopolitan sapeurs to efficiently abject and write off “ruined” hinterlands US life, enjoying their exceptional imperial space, instead of organizing for development.)

At this historical juncture, is any state in a position to take over and maintain global capitalists’ currency, to guard the globe’s privatized wealth? Is the City of London, with the (post-Brexit) UK state (not the EU) behind it, ready to step in? It’s a buttress and prod to Wall Street, but if the UK could run the global economy, they would. Now they’re mostly just a financial city-state. Is Brussels, with a European population that has long fought slavery on its shores and is heavily invested in ecological modernization? When Europe, particularly France, manoeuvered toward dropping the gold-backed dollar in the Nixon era, it wasn’t only because the US’s war against the Koreans was paid for with printed money, it was also because the European population did not support the Korean War as a reason to print money.  The incomplete mobilization toward dumping the US dollar required class coalition in Europe. Is China ready to take over the global interior-exterior capitalist gendarme role from the US? It’s still trying to build markets with social credit experiments.

There might be leverage here. Could the US state have any capacity to bargain harder and better with global capital at this historical point? Could this current historical constellation present US-global working class leverage, including through the Justice Democrats, as a contributor to a multi-tiered, internationalist, democratic strategy to distribute wealth for human development and ecological repair? We have less to lose than we have long imagined. Not only are we fast ecologically imploding, not only is wealth being rapidly extracted from the US hinterlands, but now we know, thanks to Piketty et al’s historical research, that capitalism will never be able to fulfill wealth distribution promises, always requires crippling and stunting inequality, and always requires “corrective” war anyway.

We have a lot to gain. What sorts of solidarity organization is needed to support strategy? To strategically soften the impact of belligerent capitalist strike strategies, including inflation and capital withdrawal, could the global working class build solidarity networks past the monstrous US policing system, to help US workers survive a potential, disciplinary inflationary blow-out, to win a class battle against global capitalists from the US, and correct socially- and environmentally-irrational capitalism?

 

A New International?

Because rents of global exploitation and appropriation have trickled down to US workers, it’s been easiest for global workers to say “Fuck that” to solidarity with US workers. On the US side, the working class is too immigration policy-selected, and police- and comms-disorganized to signal willingness to fight and sacrifice for the advancement of socio-economic and ecological rationality. The US has long perfected co-opting and constraining workers to conservatism with policing and military jobs, defanged and dwindling business-subordinated unions like the AFL-CIO, extending public subsidies that workers tap into to cycle through ratty small business ownership, and selling conservative morality narratives suggesting that White and ethnic exploitation and patronage networks are sufficient to weather capitalism.

But strategically, in terms of global internationalist strategy, US worker-consumers occupy a key economic niche, supplying the underlying value to global capitalists’ rents; and US workers have been suffering in that position for a while. Political science data (including Gilens & Page) say that everyday Americans are not as reality-resistant, not as conservative as they’re drawn.

We need organization.

We could also use research: What constellations of conditions, can we observe, reduce finance’s capacity to coordinate capitalists to choke society into submission to their antisocial projects of self-aggrandisement, ceaseless imperial war and social disruption, and ecological annihilation?

We know that a combination of massive-scale capital-destructive war and communist organization is one set of conditions (per Piketty 2014). Are there any others?

Tactical Components for Dismantling Rentier Capitalism’s Chokehold, Addressing Social, Economic and Ecological Problems in the 21st Century

  • Socialists in the state
    • MMT or credible MMT threat
    • UBI & UBS
    • Cooperative capacity building policy and institutions
    • Diverting funding from carceral state to social citizenship supports
  • Working Class Organization
  • Worker Internationalism
  • ipsum lorem

Enabling Conditions for the Effectiveness of the Tactical Components

  • War
  • Socialism
    • Socialist Ideas
    • Socialist Organization
    • Socialists in the US state
  • Lack of state capacity to host global currency and enthrall workers
    • Brexit and City of London-UK decapacitation
    • Chinese consumption capacity not fully developed
    • European workers disinclined to/ too capacitated to tolerate servitude
  • ipsum lorem

Challenges that Reproduce Rentier Capitalism, Social Crises, Ecological Crises

  • US working class co-optation
    • US police/military state
      • US working class disorganization
    • Longtime capitalist-subsidiary unions, such as the AFL-CIO
    • Public subsidization of irrational junk businesses
    • Meritocracy ideology and managerialist incentives
  • Global capitalist organization via finance
    • Capital strike tactical capacity
    • Inflation-inducing tactical capacity
      • working class disorganization and co-optation
      • state decapacitation and subordination
    • Asset-inflation
      • working class disorganization
    • ipsum lorem
  • ipsum lorem

 

Economics as a Discipline Manages Ideas and an Economy, Does Not Suffice to Determine What Kind of Socio-economy is Best

The Atlantic Anglosphere incorporated Friedrich von Hayek and cohort from the final failure and collapse of the White Imperial Austrian Empire, which, as a sclerotic, inegalitarian aristocracy had been on the decline, dependent upon imperial British support and rivalristic repression of both Russian and Egyptian modern socio-economic development. In its last three decades, the Austrian Empire had to incorporate Hungary to maintain the empire. It was obviously an aristocratic mess of crutch scaffolding, because that empire imploded in WWI, as you’ll recall.

In the interwar years, a “Red Vienna” arose around socialist ideas of productively sharing the wealth amassed in the dissipated empire. This improved Vienna. The White Imperial Austrians, including Mises and Hayek, seem to be really pissed off by that socialist leadership and organization. Certainly Red Vienna violated the conservative core belief that only a rich warlord class or caste of ruling elites (benefiting from their employment of exceptional advisors, of course) can run a functioning society. Though one wonders, were the White Austrians so ideological or so stupid that they somehow failed to realize that Red Vienna was built after the empire’s demise, and certainly was not a cause of its failure? Getting right with history isn’t really necessary, I suppose, if you find yourself all out of imperial employment, and then you spin around to find you’ve got an Atlantic ruling class showering you with money, academic posts, and Nobel Prizes for your expert court services.

Atlantic Anglo-America picked up the Austrian Empire’s theorists of inegalitarianism and deployed them to support absolute liberty for Anglo-American capitalists, at of course the expense of everyone else and domestic socio-economic development. Thanks to the “innovative vision” and money piles of its belligerent capitalist class, Atlantic Anglo-America deployed the Austrian Empire Decline Model by the mid 20th century, and its latter products continue to re-create that rolling disaster today. Thanks, Austrian Empire, you failed piece of shit!

Romantically inspired by that little pre-1870 historical moment when absolutist tyrants like Napoleon III and Bismarck finally modernized European metropoles just enough to establish urban bourgeois life, inegalitarians are like morphine addicts, a reality-averse, navel-gazing bourgeoisie.

Arguing for capitalists to fund a war of morality ideas, for a concentrated distribution of “output” and sovereign agency, against a broad distribution of “output” and sovereign agency, against egaliberte, democratic Enlightenment, Hayek (1939) argued, “The ultimate decision for and against socialism cannot rest on purely economic grounds, and cannot be based merely on the determination of whether a greater or smaller output of society is likely to be obtained under the alternative systems in question” (Quoted in Corey Robin’s “Uninstalling Hayek” (2019), in the Boston Review).

Note that past an identifiable point, “output” is a poor social goal, as it includes social and environmental disasters in service of absolute elite control and power.

gni v life expectancy

Life expectancy is an aggregate way of representing life quality. This graph of life expectancy v. output is one way of showing that past about 10-20K/capita, increasing output adds nothing positive to most people’s lives.

 

Disastrous environmental “output”

Oil spills
TBD

Disastrous social “output”

Reduced life chances: Health damage

TBD

 

Absolute elite control and power

Wealth inequality, globally

Wealth inequality at capitalist core

Income inequality globally

Income inequality at capitalist core

Political tyranny

Capitalist Rents Wasted on Capitalist Moral Ideas Disseminators,

see also Rightwatch’s files

iea

State Policy Network (SPN), including its affiliated state organizations

Focus on the Family, USA; Focus on the Family, Canada.

 

Junk Jobs

“(W)e used BLS stats (US) to estimate the extent to which the
structure of the labour force is shifting towards the modern equivalent of ‘lumpenproletariat’ or more contingent and least-paid occupations. Our estimates indicate that its modern equivalent in the US could account for as much as 40%-45% of the labour force; around half of incremental growth and low productivity occupations constitute ~70% of employment.

The same trend is evident in most other developed economies. Indeed these estimates understate the real impact due to lower benefits attached to these occupations; inability to secure jobs in line with qualifications or erosion of job and income stability.

Investors might argue that this is just a reflection of an accelerated shift towards services and that new higher value jobs will eventually emerge. We agree but as societies in the 19th century discovered, eventually could be a very long time.

What are the investment implications? As discussed in our prior notes, we believe investors are entering a world where the pendulum is swinging rapidly in favour of the state, as a multiplier of demand, provider of capital and setter of prices. We also believe that we are entering the age of de-globalization.”

Macquarie Research, “What caught my eye” V. 61.

See also: Citibank’s Plutonomy Report (2005).

 

Positivist Strike Back

Consistent with theoretical expectations, individuals who endorsed neoliberal, free market ideology performed worse on the “heuristics and biases” task, thereby demonstrating a stronger reliance on intuitive or heuristic-based cognitive processing (r = –.26, p = .001). They also scored lower on need for cognition (r = –.23, p = .003), expressed more faith in intuition (r = .20, p = .011), and performed worse on two of three tests of cognitive ability, namely verbal intelligence (r = –.32, p < .001) and abstract reasoning (r = –.16, p = .04), assessed with the “Wordsum” task and Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices, respectively. Finally, the endorsement of neoliberal, free market ideology was significantly associated with receptivity to bullshit (r = .16, p = .046).

Correlations involving single-item measures of social and fiscal conservatism — which were themselves highly inter-correlated (r = .67, p < .001) — were in all cases in the same direction but generally weaker than those involving free market ideology. Interestingly, bullshit receptivity was positively associated with trust in government, but the correlation attained conventional levels of statistical significance only with respect to trust in Republican governance (r = .17, p = .032).

 

http://journal.sjdm.org/16/16305/jdm16305.html?fbclid=IwAR3vbXdL3bpCCjmlGTeB6tTilmUfsiU3I4FO66n3lGSUlHnAyWq5F6-YITQ

Slavery and absolute elite freedom

“For us (Western civilization) freedom has been understood to sanction the ability of creditors to demand payment from debtors without restraint or oversight. This is the freedom to cannibalize society. This is the freedom to enslave. This is, in the end, the freedom proclaimed by the Chicago School and the mainstream of American economists.” —John Siman, reviewing Michael Hudson’s “And forgive them their debts” (2018).

Hudson argues that prior to the Roman Empire, previous agrarian Western civilizations enforced periodic debt amnesty in recognition of the inevitable, inevitably corrosive relationship between financial speculators and smallholding producers. After the Romans, Western economic elites were able to outrun the negative consequences of forcing those with the least degrees of freedom to carry the costs of market failure.

Why were elites able to dump economic failure on nonelites, cut and run, from the Romans onward–which is generally, popularly considered the geographic and historical boundary of Western civilization? Perhaps Hudson answers this? My guess: Incentives or balance of power changed in the relation between the king and the oligarchy/financiers. Why from the Romans on did it not usually pay for the king to intervene between financiers and their slaver tendency? Did monarchs become more dependent upon financiers, for example to fight wars and imperial wars? That Sweden was a late exception is interesting–In that country, there was alienation between the king and the aristocracy into the 19th century, which produced a heritage of space for non-elite semi-sovereign agency. Did something–for example the capacity to concentrate agriculture ownership and production–change in societies’ ability to contain economic and  political damage within their enslaved smallholder class? This was clearly a part of the British advantage in achieving early capitalism.

But what permitted this shift? Transportation technology, permitting export-oriented agriculture? Perhaps this is why economists are so insistent that agricultural production be export-oriented: Export-oriented agriculture removes control over the means of reproduction from non-elites. [Note to self: Draw the following mechanism out with examples:] Centrally controlling the means of reproduction, as means of production, coheres otherwise-divided elite interests, permits elite solidarity around a shared interest in advancing slavery.

As Siman says, this reproductive-productive controlling ownership is what we define as “economic growth;” it creates certain kinds of heavily-touted benefits, but certainly we recognize it produces vast, deep, endemic costs: epigenetic, environmental, war and violence, institutionalized incapacity to shift into ecologically- and socially-rational directions, stunting smallholders’ development, imposing a sin and shame psychological burden upon smallholders, racialized and genderized alienation and defection, inducing corrupt governance, etc.

With the French Revolution and the mass emigration, however, all of Europe’s financial class were restrained from enslaving the domestic population…slavery was instead imposed in the colonies. To this day, nonelite sovereignty is fragile or highly compromised in the colonies.

Research note: Seems like you could trace this ultra-burden/ultra-freedom discrepancy epigentically.

While debt is the slavery-instituting mechanism, Hudson’s analysis complements and goes back in history beyond Losurdo (2011) and Blyth (2002), locating the connection between Western political economy and slavery not just in liberalism, but liberalism as an extension of that Roman elitist innovation in transferring risk and culpability for market failure onto debtors rather than on gambling financiers.

“Moral Hazard” My Ass

…The last bit of Siman’s article, having to pedantically explain that it’s a little weird that conservative economists’ “Moral Hazard” only applies to smallholders, and doesn’t apply to financial speculators, despite their theory that these speculators are the agents, principally doing everyone a liquidity solid (favor), reminds me of a grad geographic economics class I took as a student. This, and how other blind spots were strutted out as if they were logical achievements, rather than formalized marketing and legitimation flim-flammery, went a long way toward revealing what the Economics discipline actually is and does.

Primitive Accumulation, Negative Externalities and Growth

Over the years, Stefano Bartolini has modeled economic growth, showing that whereas most models of economic growth feature accumulation and technical progress as engines of growth, a third engine is needed to ensure self-perpetuating economic growth. History, the theory of Polanyi & Hirsch, and Bartolini’s models suggest that third engine is 2 negative externalities that combine to drive growth: 1) positional externalities, and 2) externalities that reduce social and natural capital.

Pagano 1999 defined a positional good: consumption by an individual of a positive amount of a positional good involves the consumption of an equal negative amount by someone else. Power and status are fundamental positional goods; others include education and housing.  The positional goods/services/externalities theoretical tradition extends from Veblen 1899/1934 and Hirsh 1976. In addition to Bartolini, Robert H. Frank (“Falling Behind”) has continued to explore this tradition as well as Bowles and Park 2002, Schor 1998, and Corneo and Jeanne 2001.

“Industrial revolutions are the paradigmatic example of this (Growth as Substitution) mechanism: they are the most striking processes of labor supply and accumulation increase because they are the most striking processes of social and environmental devastation recorded by economic history” (Stefano Bartolini, “Beyond Accumulation and Technical Progress: Negative Externalities as an Engine of Economic Growth.” 2003: 9).

Williamson 1995, Krugman 1995, and Bartolini et al have shown that the transition to an industrial economy has always been associated with explosive growth in the labor force participation rate.

Such growth-propelling negative externalities are discussed within the Marxist tradition as primitive accumulation. To further explore: The relationship between primitive accumulation and other capitalist strategies of promoting profit-restoring growth to the point of increasing contradiction / social and environmental irrationality.

Bartolini’s growth-model can better explain the failure of conservative economics’ predicted relationship between growth and happiness (Bartolini 2003). Inter alia, political scientist Lane 2000 shows that American growth is not associated with increased happiness.