Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Why are cows sacred in the Hindu tradition?

From Marx's Capital, Volume 2, Chapter 12 (1885), (quoting observers).
"While the peasant farmer starves, his cattle thrive. Repeated showers had fallen in the country, and the forage was abundant. The Hindoo peasant will perish by hunger beside a fat bullock.

"The prescriptions of superstition, which appear cruel to the individual, are conservative for the community; and the preservation of the labouring cattle secures the power of cultivation, and the sources of future life and wealth.

"It may sound harsh and sad to say so, but in India it is more easy to replace a man than an ox." ...

"Desertion of life, without reward, for the sake of preserving a priest or a cow . . . may cause the beatitude of those base-born tribes."
One could almost suspect a conscious decision by high-caste Brahmans to create a religious rite protective of cattle, the foundation of an economy which saw them at the apex.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The artiste and her work

This from the archives, fifteen years ago.

We were living in Fairfax County, Virginia at the time and Clare's painting is of Wolf Trap, where we had just attended a concert. She had other works.

I was working for Cable & Wireless up at Reston. One of my colleagues saw her picture "Freesias" and offered to buy it.


A good example of early primitive, she said. In fear of my life, I demurred.

Why do crises happen; why are we stagnating?

Two good posts from Sam Williams.

In the first he compares and contrasts three theories of crisis (within Marxism).
  1. The underconsumption/Monthly Review school of thought
  2. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall (FRP for short)
  3. The generalised overproduction of commodities relative to the market.
Williams identifies David Harvey and Michael Heinrich as belonging to the first school, Michael Roberts and Andrew Kliman as proponents of the second, while he himself adheres to the third school of thought.

Sam reminds us of Marx's (Capital, Volume 2) analysis of the discrete steps in capitalist reproduction. Crises can occur at any point in the process and the schools of thought differ as to which dysfunction is most critical. Here's a flavour of his piece:
"Crises can occur at any point in the process of expanded reproduction.

To further clarify this point, let’s examine the basic formula for capitalist production
Reproduction consists of a series of these cycles. In the case of expanded capitalist reproduction—and capitalist reproduction can only exist in in the long run as expanded reproduction—the numbers represented by the algebraic quantities M, C, P, C’, and M’ get bigger with each successive production cycle. A crisis in the process of capitalist expanded reproduction can occur at any place in this formula, from M on the extreme left to M’ on the extreme right.

Let’s start on the extreme left. If there is not enough M available, the circuit does not even get off the ground. Historically, it was no accident that the “rosy dawn” of capitalist development, as Marx ironically called it in the chapter on the primitive accumulation of capital in Volume I of “Capital,” began with the search for gold and silver in the Americas.

The conquistadors found gold aplenty in Peru. While to the natives of Peru gold had a largely artistic use value, to the conquistadors it was money. This money material in the form of gold and silver stolen from or extracted with the labor of the enslaved natives toiling in the mines of the Americas in no small measure formed the initial M that launched the process of capitalist expanded reproduction in the first place.

Assuming enough money is available, we next come to C. The industrial capitalists must find commodities on the market to carry out the production of commodities containing surplus value. These include the elements of fixed capital—buildings and machines. In addition, the industrial capitalists must find sources for motive power, lighting in factories, and so on. These are called auxiliary materials. And they must find raw materials. If they cannot find the appropriate commodities in the necessary quantities, or adequate substitutes, capitalist (re)production will suffer a crisis.

Most importantly, the capitalists must find the commodity labor power in the form of “free wage labor,” which alone actually produces surplus value. If they cannot, capitalist expanded reproduction will suffer a crisis caused by the absolute overproduction of capital. In its earliest days, this was perhaps the biggest problem for capitalism.

All the gold and silver of the Americas would not in and of itself have made capitalism possible if the problem of finding an adequate supply of wage labor had not been solved. It was also necessary to separate the producers from their means of production. Only in this way would the producers be forced to offer their labor power to the capitalists on the market in exchange for wages.

This task was solved—not without the massive intervention of state violence and coercion. The FRP school of crisis theory believes that cyclical crises that mark the history of capitalism since 1825 occur at this point, the point where the capitalists convert or attempt to convert money into variable capital. I disagree.

We then come to P, the production of commodities that contain surplus value. It is at P that C is transformed into C’. The constant part of C transfers its value to C. The variable portion of C—labor power—replaces its own value. Most importantly, the labor power in addition to replacing its own value produces an additional value, the surplus value. C’ differs from C in two ways. One is that C’ has a different use value than C. Two, C’ has a value quantitatively larger than C. The difference, C’ minus C, is the surplus value.

Crises can and sometimes do occur at this point in the process of capitalist reproduction. For example, if there is a workers’ strike, reproduction breaks down at this point because the striking workers withdraw their labor and no surplus value is produced as long as the strike continues.

In the case of agriculture, unfavorable growing conditions or diseases might cause P to fail. Workers perform unpaid labor but the use value of C’ fails to emerge because mother nature doesn’t cooperate. For example, as sometimes happens in my native New York State, a late spring frost destroys the flowers in an apple orchard owned by a capitalist farmer. Since no apples appear on the trees, the physical use value of C’ is not produced. P has failed. And when we have no use value, we have no value.

Assuming, however, all goes well for them—and we can see this is not guaranteed—the industrial capitalists will possess C’, commodities that contain surplus value. But unless they happen to produce the commodity that serves as money material, they are not yet home free. A dangerous step lies ahead. They must find buyers with the ability to pay for the commodities that contain surplus value.

Let’s assume they do find buyers. They now posses M’, or a sum of money greater than amount of money they started with. They are now in a position to carry out another cycle of production M—C…P…C’—M’ on a yet larger scale. Expanded capitalist reproduction proceeds. But if they fail, expanded reproduction is halted at this last and most dangerous point in the cycle of capitalist expanded reproduction.

Experience had already shown by the time of Marx and Engels that it is at this last point where capitalist expanded reproduction is most vulnerable to a general breakdown or crisis. It is important not to confuse this type of crisis with other types of crisis that can and inevitably do occur at other points in capitalist expanded reproduction—and indeed in any system of economic reproduction—with this particular type of crisis unique to highly developed capitalism. This is an error that I believe the FRP theory of crisis falls into."
Incidentally, I'm not as worried as some people about the existence of crises; it's akin to exploratory behaviour under uncertainty. Something similar would be a feature of any future mode of production although one would hope with diminishing amplitude.


In the second post he talks about why it's so hard to recover from crisis. A critical distinction is the overproduction of commodities (the ones piled high in warehouses) vs. the overproduction of manufacturing equipment (fixed capital). The latter linger in zombie fashion for many months, if not years, leading to spare capacity and acting as a drag on new growth. Here's an excerpt:
"Fixed capital can be very difficult to transform quickly into money capital in a crisis. Commodity capital [e.g. finished goods waiting to be sold] can often be quickly transformed into money capital by selling it below the price of production or even at a loss if capitalists due to a crisis have to quickly raise cash in order to pay off pressing debts. In this case, our capitalists may lose a portion of the value of their capital but not all of it. The capitalists can often survive as capitalists—though not always—and go back to the accumulation of capital once the crisis has passed.

However, it is far more difficult to sell factory buildings, machinery and so on used to produce commodity capital, let alone sell it quickly under crisis conditions. Though fixed capital can be transferred from the ownership of one capitalist to another, it is not really designed to be “sold” but rather used up over a series of turnover cycles. One of the great perils confronting any industrial business is finding itself with a lot of fixed capital but very little money capital when a crisis hits. In this situation, the owner(s) of industrial capital can very easily lose all their capital, because though they have a great deal of capital, they do not have capital in the form demanded by their creditors—money.

Overproduction of fixed capital

When commodity capital is overproduced, this by definition means that the fixed capital used to produce those commodities was also overproduced. Every generalized crisis of overproduction therefore involves the overproduction—or over-accumulation—of fixed capital. The overproduction of commodity capital can be overcome fairly quickly by reducing or halting production of that particular type of commodity or by selling it at a loss. It is much harder—and takes far longer, often many years—to overcome the overproduction of fixed capital. During this period, little new additional fixed capital will be produced. This is shown by the stages of the industrial cycle.

The history of industrial cycles has shown that the crisis proper rarely lasts more than a year and half. Even the super-crisis of 1929-1933 lasted less than four years in the United States and about three years in most of the other capitalist countries. The end of the crisis phase of the industrial cycle, when industrial production reaches its lowest point and begins to rise once again, corresponds to the overcoming of the overproduction of commodity capital.

However, the period of stagnation or slow growth lasts for several years beyond the actual crisis and sometimes considerably longer. The stagnation or semi-stagnation phase of the cycle corresponds to the period between the overcoming of the overproduction of commodity capital that occurred during the preceding boom and the overcoming of the overproduction of fixed capital that accompanied the boom, or sometimes several preceding booms.

While the crisis proper is marked by “excess inventories” piling up unsold in warehouses, the period of post-crisis stagnation is marked by a high level of excess capacity, with large quantities of factories and machines—fixed capital—lying idle, not able to function as capital.

Only gradually is this excess capacity overcome. (3) It is overcome by being gradually reactivated as demand for commodities rises once again in the wake of the crisis, on one hand, and by being physically destroyed, [in value terms, which could mean made obsolete or disposed of] on the other. Only when excess capacity has fallen to a certain point can a new investment boom occur. As long as excess capacity remains high—the preceding overproduction of fixed capital has not been overcome—no fall in the rate of long-term interest rates can trigger a new investment boom. This is the phase of the industrial cycle that Keynesian economists call a liquidity trap. Such a liquidity trap represents the period between the overcoming of the preceding overproduction of commodity capital and the far longer process of overcoming the overproduction of fixed capital."
Worth reading both posts to get a feel for the dynamics of our age.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Time to go post-Google

For a long time I used to not care about Internet privacy. And then Google got into SJW mode and ceased to be my friend. I read about its business model, the Amazonian torrents of cash that advertisers pour into its coffers .. and I wondered if it would always have my best interests at heart.

So I decided to use DuckDuckGo for all those searches which I'd like to keep from the planetary AI. But Google, and my ISP, still know way too much.

... but you're never alone with a keylogger

On my Android devices, the DuckDuckGo app has a setting to 'enable Tor' which I checked. It then helpfully prompts you to install the Tor router Orbot and the Tor browser Orfox. It's easy.

Orbot does not provide generic anonymous Internet access; programs have to be configured to work with it. Basically things work best if you access websites via the Tor Browser .. which is the search term for Windows PCs.

The thing is, I know that the AI assistant we're slowly crawling towards will only work if it knows more about you than your closest confidante. And it will live in the Cloud. But I would pay to have that knowledge base under my control and lodged with a trusted third party (like the folks running ProtonMail).


Google's middleman offer to advertisers and you & me is based on the twin peaks of narrow domain expertise, increasingly based on neural net AI such as Google Translate and voice recognition, and its ability to integrate across its apps which thread to so much of our lives: email, photos, calendar, notes, search queries, etc.

Google does the bulk of this information centralisation and synthesis in the Cloud: that is, on its own servers. The resulting real-time data model of you both repopulates your apps (Chrome talks to Gmail talks to Calendar talks to Google Now talks to GPS talks to Maps ...) and is sold to advertisers for targeting.

If we're to bring that level of integration back into our own hands, then we need to capture our activity across many different apps and device functions. Perhaps one day all apps will have a standard API with which to talk to our personal assistant app .. but until then it's a benign keylogger I'm afraid.

The other people who are big fans of keyloggers are the intelligence services and those vendors (like Microsoft) who are losing out in the race for ubiquitous ownership of our most popular apps.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Diary: Black Rock and Velvet Bottom

For those of you rolling your eyes and muttering, "Not another physics post!" here is gentler fare.

Our lunchtime excursion today was to the top of the Cheddar Gorge, to Black Rock leading to Velvet Bottom. Did I mention it's been raining?

Rain, did I mention it?

The lead cow thinks it's the boss. Concurring, we hide behind barbed wire

The famous (and crumbling) 'Black Rock' - Clare has found a rock armchair

It's been crossed off our list till next summer, hashtag #quagmire.

MWI, plus entanglement leads to GR, maybe?

In this video Sean Carroll lectures at Kings College on the 'Many-Worlds Interpretation' of quantum theory and his attempts, with collaborators, to conceptualise general relativistic spacetime as an emergent phenomenon due to entanglement.

Apparently the degree of entanglement between distinct vacuum states falls off as the distance between them. But perhaps this can be inverted, so that the concept of distance could be seen as an emergent proxy for the degree of entanglement.

The 50 minute lecture is 'aimed at undergraduates who haven't necessarily yet taken a quantum mechanics course'. If you are such, Carroll's talk will be as compelling as a presentation on Summa Theologica from Thomas Aquinas.

On the other hand, a passable familiarity with Hilbert space, quantum superposition and the Schrödinger equation plus a hand-wavy feel for QFT and Einstein's field equations will allow you to properly appreciate Carroll's approach to physics (and would make you a physics graduate).

In a nutshell, it's believe in the maths. Once you appreciate the ubiquity of superposition (ie, it's everywhere) you're kind of committed to the reality - in some sense - of Hilbert space. The observed phenomena simply can't be explained by theories which restrict themselves to our classical-looking 4D spacetime.

Carroll's talk is not technical in argumentation, he mentions rather than uses the theoretical apparatus of modern physics. That does put the burden of getting his drift wholly on the theoretical preparation of the listener of course.

In the final part of his lecture, he describes the research programme which seeks to obtain geometry from entanglement in quantum field theories via entropy and then, through considerations of energy, to reconstruct the GR field equations as the classical limit.

He seems encouraged, though this is work-in-progress.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

1917-2017: the collapse of the revolutionary left

I recently surveyed the top thinkers on contemporary Marxism. By comparison with 1917 they're almost all academics or independent intellectuals. Compare this with the talented leadership of the mass working-class socialist organisations so dominant a century ago.

"Lenin lived, lives and will live!"

I find it remarkable.

The discourse of contemporary Marxist theory, while as acerbic as always, is incredibly introverted. The top issues still the 'transformation problem' or the validity of  'the law of the falling tendency of the rate of profit'.

Where are the analyses of how developments in genomics and psychometrics impact upon Marxist theory? Surely the nature of the individuals who create the social relationships of society - across classes and across the world - are pretty relevant? So why the visceral hostility to such research?

And where are the serious debates about the transition to socialism? No-one analyses why the Soviet Union imploded. No-one asks where China is going. No-one thinks deeply or plausibly about the nature of revolution when the Leninist vanguard-insurrection model seems completely off the agenda. No-one thinks about how to organise a post-capitalist society in a way which wouldn't collapse into something like bureaucratic-socialism, a cure far worse than the disease.


Ironically the 'mass-leftism' we see (Corbyn/Momentum in the UK, the SJW phenomenon all over the place) isn't based on a Marxist analysis at all. It's liberal-egalitarian in ideological content. An under-analysed aspect of capitalist society is the production of ideology. Sure, enough Marxists have emphasised that cultural leaders, public intellectuals, op-ed writers don't just sit down and think to themselves, "How can I dream up a narrative which justifies the global exploitation of workers by the neoliberal bourgeoisie?"


The way it really works is that earnest, well-meaning people have had their horizons reset since the 1980s by the eclipse of the workers movements and the rise of globalisation.They now reflect upon a world bound together, as they see it, by the ties of global production and trade.

They buy in to the civilising and developmental benefits of world-wide manufacturing and global supply-chains, and are naturally keen that people everywhere have unimpeded access to a plethora of meritocratic opportunities. Why wouldn't they be opposed to racism, sexism, and phobias of all description, which seem to impact on equal outcomes?

Global capitalism is wholly on board with such morally-uplifting campaigns, which smooth the way for frictionless utilisation of labour power across the planet. The whole SJW thing is in no sense anti-capitalist at all, which is why the establishment so indulges it. You'd think that the more profound Marxist thinkers might be drawing attention to this, rather than simply aligning themselves uncritically with 'the movement'.


My final point is that the death-throes of capitalism have been trumpeted prematurely by Marxists for 150 years. Really, there is very little evidence that the historical work of capitalism in developing the productive forces has been achieved. The abolition of capitalism will come about through the dynamics of its real innermost contradictions, those whereby capitalism seeks to abolish the proletariat itself.

From 1917 to 2017 we've had a century of capitalist progress; for another century we will see more of the same. When it's time for capitalism to go, we surely will know it without having to dig deep into Marxist theory to discern the hidden patterns of the tea leaves.

Diary: Burleigh Court Hotel (Stroud)

Monday evening we stayed at the Burleigh Court Hotel in Stroud. We liked it so much that our hotel room yesterday morning looked liked Tracey Emin had stayed (video).

We drove to Bath, specifically Debenham's to buy Clare some trousers. As we queued to pay on the first floor I noticed a rack displaying a dozen DVDs of the movie "Fifty Shades Darker".

I asked Clare: "We're on the womenswear floor. Why are they prominently displaying DVDs of a young ingénue who gets chastised by a handsome hedge-fund hunk?"

Clare was surprisingly speechless; I was rewarded only with a glare.

Up the escalator to menswear, where I had to buy a couple of shirts. Doing my best 'incompetent male' thing - not hard as I have no idea how to buy a shirt - a succession of middle-aged women fussed over me, measuring my neck size, choosing the right kind of shirt (slim, single-cuff) and giving me feedback on fit.

I found it curiously agreeable - perhaps I could pitch the idea to a film director?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wendy Payne (1935-2017)

Wendy's funeral was held yesterday in Stroud. Wendy was my mother's (much younger) cousin - she said she always regarded my mother (Beryl Seel) as more of a sister.

Here are the presiding minister's remarks (the Reverend Brian Woollaston).

"Wendy was born in Bristol in 1935. The family moved to Haydon near Radstock shortly afterwards as her father worked on the railway as a steam locomotive fireman. She thoroughly enjoyed life in the Somerset countryside, going to school in Kilmersdon.

Her father had a promotion when she was 15 to a locomotive driver at Gloucester, and they moved to Longlevens on the outskirts of Gloucester. Wendy, being a country girl, did not like living in a city, but having left school found an office job in a local printers.

After a couple of years her father got her an office job at the locomotive depot at Barnwood, checking the drivers' time sheets etc. She settled down in Longlevens joining Holy Trinity church and the choir there.

When the depot closed she moved to the other locomotive depot at Horton Road and then to Eastgate station (now ASDA!) in the area manager's office. She was well known for riding a 'sit up and beg' bicycle to and from work in the early days.

She met Derrick at Eastgate station, as he was also working on the railway, and travelled from Stroud daily, calling in at the station to collect mail etc. They were engaged in 1975 and married in 1978, and for a while Wendy continue to work at Gloucester, travelling daily by train from Stroud where they lived at Cashes Green.

As this involved a long day she left the railway service and had several jobs in Stroud before becoming a full-time housewife. Her interests still involved the church and she regularly attended both Randwick and Cainscross churches, enjoyed flower arranging and gardening and the simple things in life. She knew flowers and loved gardening.

She would help anyone and would go out of her way to do so and thought well of everybody."


Here are some other photos of Wendy.

Wendy (aged 3) and my mother (aged 16) at Radcliffe bay in 1939

Wendy and Beryl Porter in the late 1940s

Wendy with Clare and myself in April 2017

Wendy was incredibly organised and full of energy. She bore her final illness with extraordinary stoicism and was truly thinking mostly about the future of others through her final days.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

Abigail Nussbaum wrote a scathing review of Kazuo Ishiguro's latest book.  Here's how she ends:

Amazon link

"... underneath The Buried Giant's polite surface, there is a genuinely misanthropic heart, that sees the flaws in its characters as a reason to hate and punish them, not pity them.  The point of the novel isn't that war and conflict are inevitable, or that no love is perfect, but rather that it is foolish to hope otherwise, and that people who do--both the characters and the readers--are to be derided.

The only good thing that has come from my choice to read this novel is that I no longer have to wonder if I was wrong about Ishiguro ten years ago, and hopefully I won't make the mistake of picking him up again."
Opinions on Amazon seem to be mixed but I am more optimistic.

In any event, it's the next book to be read to Clare, starting tomorrow.

A Marxist Economist in Academia

Sam Williams writes about Anwar Shaikh.

Amazon link

"Shaikh has lived and worked in an era dominated by the reaction—the back side so to speak—of the Great Russian Revolution, whose one-hundredth anniversary we celebrate this year (2017). In the United States, where Shaikh works and lives, there has been no socialist organization that was either capable or willing to support the great work that Shaikh has performed. This stands in contrast to the eras of the Second and Third Internationals. As a result, Shaikh has had to earn his living as a professor of economics at the New School. And the New School should be complemented for allowing a man of Shaikh’s stature to perform his work.

This has enabled Shaikh to earn a living and live in relatively comfortable material conditions—at least compared to that of Marx. And he has been free from the kinds of political pressures that existed in the Second and Third Internationals. But the price he has paid for this is that he is subjected to the pressure of “official” economics. Under the “publish or perish” pressure that dominates the academy, he has to show that he is a “real economist”—unlike the writers who produce articles on basic Marxist economics that occasionally appear in the small newspapers published by the small U.S. socialist organizations.

As a result, “Capitalism” is written in such a way that few political activists—even those who specialize in economics—will be able to understand. Instead, “Capitalism” is directed at Shaikh’s fellow economists, who won’t be able to understand it either—though for quite different reasons.

It is also reflected by Shaikh’s definition of “the classical school” of economics, in which he includes Marx, the neo-Ricardians, and his own work. This differs radically from the definition of classical economics as defined by Marx.

In contrast to Shaikh, Marx saw classical economics as something already in the past in his own day as a result of the growing intensity of the class struggle. In contrast to Shaikh, he also put himself outside of all political economy, seeing it as a “bourgeois science” that he was critiquing as an outsider serving the working class.

Modern universities, though they support “free thought” up to a point, cannot but help but be organs in the final analysis of the capitalist ruling class. As such, they are the chief sponsors of “official economics,” which has done and continues to do great harm to the working class and other exploited people. In recent decades, unlike in the past, university economics departments have been willing to hire a few Marxists, but they not surprisingly show a strong preference to those Marxists who concentrate on criticizing aspects of Marx’s work—especially those who have the effect of stripping away all its revolutionary implications.

Neo-Ricardian-inspired critiques of the law of labor value that invalidate Marx’s theory of surplus value, and criticisms of the falling tendency of the rate of profit, which imply that capitalism can last forever, are much appreciated. This is all the more true since the great majority of bourgeois economists are trained only in neo-classical marginalism and are therefore so profoundly ignorant of Marx’s work that they are incapable of criticizing it. Therefore, an economist or two who are familiar enough with Marx’s work that they can critique its most revolutionary conclusions are considered in many university departments a valuable addition to a department otherwise consisting entirely of marginalists—most of whom are allied with the right wing of bourgeois politics.

Almost all professional economists, whether of the right or left, “know” that gold plays no important role in the modern monetary system, though strangely enough operators in the financial markets who are obsessed with every movement of the dollar price of gold have failed to get the message. And the economists also “know”—especially “progressive economists” but not only them—that getting rid of the role gold formerly played in the national and international monetary systems is key to the capitalist state’s alleged “successes” in avoiding “depressions,” which are now defined only as downturns on the scale of the 1930s or greater. Indeed, any attempt to return to a gold standard under current circumstances would have appalling consequences.

While upholding some version of the labor theory of value can be barely tolerated in university economics departments, it generally can’t be Marx’s version but some “MELT” [monetary expression of labor time] or MELT-like version of labor value. The revelation of all the contradictions of accepting Marx’s full theory of value is simply too revolutionary.

Shaikh’s work is all the more remarkable considering the political environment in which he has been obliged to work. However, it cannot in its current form be accepted as a finished product. It is more like a semi-finished product that is almost there but needs a little more work—the most important of which was fortunately done more than a century before the time of Shaikh by Marx himself. Once Shaikh’s MELT-like theory of value is replaced by Marx’s full theory of value, Shaikh’s work will come fully into its own. Correcting and completing Shaikh’s work will be a key task for Marxist economists in the coming years, whose primary job is to wage the now rapidly intensifying class struggle in the field of ideas."
Sam Williams has written an enormously erudite ten part critique of Shaikh's book, starting here. Look to the bottom of his sidebar to find the links to the next nine parts. It's essentially a pamphlet, or a small book.

Anwar Shaikh's video lectures are here.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Marx and the party girls

I think it's fair to say that Marx didn't write a great deal about prostitution and brothels - but he certainly wasn't a fan.

In the Marxist tradition, a 'sex worker' (in a business framework) is just another worker selling her (it's usually her) labour power to create surplus value. Once a brothel has employed her, their interest is to maximise the value of her activities. Her own choices in the matter are not a major concern.

This creates an ideological problem for those naive enough to believe that brothels have, as their main function, to make 'sex work' safer. So in this recent BBC website article, Sabrinna Valisce writes:
""They started talking about how stigma against 'sex workers' was the worst thing about it, and that prostitution is just a job like any other," Valisce remembers.

It somehow made what she was doing seem more palatable.

She became the collective's massage parlour co-ordinator and an enthusiastic supporter of its campaign for the full decriminalisation of all aspects of the sex trade, including pimps.

"It felt like there was a revolution coming. I was so excited about how decriminalisation would make things better for the women," she says. ...

But she soon became disillusioned.

The Prostitution Reform Act allowed brothels to operate as legitimate businesses, a model often hailed as the safest option for women in the sex trade.

In the UK, the Home Affairs Select Committee has been considering a number of different approaches towards the sex trade, including full decriminalisation. But Valisce says that in New Zealand it was a disaster, and only benefited the pimps and punters. ...

"I thought it would give more power and rights to the women," she says. "But I soon realised the opposite was true."

One problem was that it allowed brothel owners to offer punters an "all-inclusive" deal, whereby they would pay a set amount to do anything they wanted with a woman.

"One thing we were promised would not happen was the 'all-inclusive'," says Valisce. "Because that would mean the women wouldn't be able to set the price or determine which sexual services they offered or refused - which was the mainstay of decriminalisation and its supposed benefits."

Aged 40, Valisce approached a brothel in Wellington for a job, and was shocked by what she saw.

"During my first shift, I saw a girl come back from an escort job who was having a panic attack, shaking and crying, and unable to speak. The receptionist was yelling at her, telling her to get back to work.

I grabbed my belongings and left," she says."
It's reminiscent of children aged 9 or 10 working 18 hour days, which Marx wrote so scathingly about in Capital Vol 1. Surprisingly, despite their liberated views on sexuality, the elite don't seem very happy that their own daughters should move into sex work.

Evolutionary psychology reminds us of what we all know. Women in general are quite choosy who they have sex with, since their mate will provide half the genes of their children.

The corresponding and innate emotional, psychological drives are violated in both prostitution and rape.

Because the former is generally economically-motivated rather than inflicted by violence, the sisterhood gets confused. Muddying the water is that phenomenon of social parasitism, female psychopathy, exhibiting a strategy of promiscuity which can apparently make prostitution a congenial occupation for them. You can always find a woman to tell you that prostitution is great.


Anomie, the felt pointlessness of life, is frequently seen on the evening streets. This is the subject of a new Channel 5 TV show (which screams 'trash'), entitled "Bad Habits, Holy Orders: what happened when five party girls moved into a convent" featured in The Times today.

"Five new girls arrive at the Daughters of Divine Charity convent in Swaffham, deep in rural Norfolk. The first, Paige, 23, has, between her red go-go boots and her miniskirt, a gap large enough to display the entire face of Nicki Minaj that is tattooed on her thighs. She is struggling to pull a suitcase the size of a small wagon across the gravel courtyard. It’s full of her clubbing lingerie. She is joined by Rebecca, 19, another committed hedonist who seems to sum up their situation when she realises what their new home is, crying: “F***, I’m in a f***ing nunnery.”

"It’s a fair guess that this Channel 5 reality-TV experiment, called Bad Habits, Holy Orders, wouldn’t have taken much of a “sell”. “Think Sister Act,” the executive would say, “crossed with St Trinian’s.” Then, more sheepishly, wiping the froth off his chin: “It’s basically some party girls in G-strings in a convent.” And lo it came to pass."
So what do you think? Wildly self-centred, tantrum-prone party girls met by uncomprehending, disapproving nuns? It all ends in some gigantic, collective hissy-fit?

You wouldn't be more wrong.
"Then it is time to have tea with Sister Thomas More and Sister Francis, a double act of smiley, grandmotherly types from mother-superior central casting. I open with what I think is a small-talk question about why modesty is important for nuns. “They seemed to be in the habit of wearing very little,” says Sister Thomas More of the visitors. “I think it’s a turn-on isn’t it, for men? If you are completely naked, you are asking for trouble . . . We have ourselves to blame sometimes. So I think modesty is important.”

"At this the PR woman looks up from her laptop: “But no means no for women, doesn’t it?”

"Sister Thomas More says: “Sometimes they don’t know what no means, do they?”

"I try to help out: men should respect consent no matter how a woman is dressed?

“That’s all right if you’re with men who are going to respect it.”

"We move on. Their views are representative of a generation who grew up in a more restrictive age for women. Their calling as nuns, they tell me, has given them a life of travel and freedom that surpassed the alternative life of domesticity that was awaiting them.

"In practice, their attitude to the young women is fond and non-judgemental; mostly they are worried for them. Sister Francis clucks over them, concerned that they are “chilly” in their minimal garments and sympathetic to the aesthetic pressures society puts on them."
And what about the effects (of the nunnery) on the girls?
"Rebecca, as no one would have predicted, loves her session with the nuns in an old people’s home. After she leaves the convent she gives up clubbing, starts a long-term relationship, returns to college to do a healthcare qualification and reconciles with her father, who says that her going to the convent had achieved all that he never could. “You broke me,” he tells Rebecca.

"Gabbi says she felt her Instagram feed was all that people valued her on. “I felt useless.” The convent helped her to “remember being back when I was 14, the last time I felt like my real self”.

"Tyla is volunteering with the homeless. Paige gets a tattoo of a crucifix and Sarah changes her hours — she used to sleep from 7am to 5pm; now she works as a personal assistant. Her friends tell her to stop talking about moderation. They say: “Sarah, we don’t even know what it means.”

"There’s only one word for the young women’s attitude to their transformation: evangelical. If they do post on social media, it is to urge compassion, with the hashtag “love yourself”, which they thought up together at the convent. It isn’t quite “love God” or “love thy neighbour”, but it means a lot to them just the same. "
The God who gives a value system and sense of community to the nuns may be illusory, but by believing in Him their lives do gain purpose. In an evolutionary sense it's hopeless - as 'Brides of Christ' their genes are terminated - but in the environment of evolutionary adaptation which selected for their sense of communal dedication, their instincts were aligned with best and most successful social practice.

In a society where the economic structure assigns the orderly 'production of surplus value under the direction of the capitalist enterprise' as the individualised purpose of each non-elite person's life, the constellation of human psychological drives do struggle to gain traction in daily routines.

The failure of the Tory party to inspire people, the success of Momentum ('The World Transformed'): these phenomena are not hard to understand.



It is commonplace, in this sort of article, to say that anomie will be overcome under socialism or some such. Sadly, no further justification is ever given.

The previous generation often observed that life had never been more meaningful than during World War II. There was a sense of comradeship and community in the war which they missed ever after.

One is hardly surprised. Humans evolved in small groups faced with towering existential problems which only collective teamwork could overcome. We are descended from those who succeeded in that, so it's no surprise we feel fulfilled by collective teamwork in situations of existential threat.

But wasn't socialism/communism going to eliminate existential threat? Won't we all be terribly bored? And wasn't that always the critique of Heaven and all utopias?

A compelling criticism indeed, perhaps only to be addressed by the directed modification of our own psychologies under communism. Marx wrote,
"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Marx, German Ideology (1845).
Not everyone will think this a description of their own utopia! But Marx is plainly on to something in the matter of choice. We'll have to identify worthwhile objectives (as a Darwinian I'd be thinking pro-survival and pro-expansion), arranging that we self-engineer both capability and desire.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Diary: Capital Vol 2 and other stories

Up bright and early this morning. A ten past eight appointment with the dentist to have my new crown fitted. Except that it didn't fit. Apparently this happens one time out of five or six.

The tooth-stub was re-impressed (uncomfortable-to-the-cheek process with a mould) and I have to return in a couple of weeks for the next attempt to fit it.


I am working through Capital Vol 2 (£2.99 on Kindle .. slightly easier to read than the free PDF) and what a trial the first four chapters are.

Things they don't tell you. Volume 2 was never written as a book by Marx, instead it was assembled from his voluminous notes by Engels. It's dry, insanely-repetitive .. and a less reverential editor would have cut it down to one tenth the size.

There are occasional nuggests buried under pages of Marx pecking away at the same material, over and over again. Marx was clearly just writing this stuff for himself, trying various thoughts out in an obsessive manner.

I'll grit my teeth and persevere, and then let someone else take over the heavy burden of distilling its real content. David Harvey is meant to be the go-to guy and I have his Limits to Capital.

Unfortunately I have to say I side with Michael Roberts against Harvey in the fundamentals of Marx's dynamical thinking, summed up in the reproduction schemes and Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (LTRPF).

Update: Vol 2 chapters 5 and 6, where Marx reverts to coherent narrative, are considerably more interesting. I'm learning quite a bit and hoping for a continuing trend here.


BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg has an insightful piece on the BBC website today about the inner decay of the present Tory government.
"The fuss around Boris Johnson is the symptom not the cause. The problem that is increasingly on people's minds at this grisly conference is that the Tories might be only at the start of a decline, which becomes impossible to escape.

"One former minister says, "there is a smell of decay", another, that it is "hopeless, but we are resigned to the nightmare". Cabinet ministers fret that Theresa May simply doesn't have the ideas or imagination to reboot either her leadership or their party. ...

"One of her colleagues says "how did she blow the party up in 12 months?", lamenting how her premiership has paralleled Gordon Brown, who after years of hoping to get to Downing Street arrived there with little to say, bewildered by the sudden challenge of the top job. Another says she looks "bent and broken". ...

"The fear here is not really that Boris Johnson is grabbing all the attention, it's that this party could be dying inside, and it finds itself with a leader who might struggle to stop the downward spiral."
Time to finish up here and go listen to Boris.



Performance-wise, it was a pretty decent speech and the conference standing ovation looked genuine. The message - economically-globalist, politically-liberal, strategically British-Empire-lite - was tailored to appeal to smaller capitalists operating within the national market, those companies aligned with US and other non-EU markets and the culturally-nationalist fraction of the more traditional working class.

Its tragedy: the Boris vision is not aligned with the interests of the dominant financial and industrial wings of the British ruling class, which heavily value economic integration within the European Union. It also fails for the idealistic middle-class young, those who buy into euro-ideology and fill the ranks of Momentum.

So yet again we've seen the deep fissure within the British elite and in the mass of the population, as refracted through the Tory party. Boris, despite his charisma, does not bridge the divide. No-one can.

Tory party dynamics, going forward, should be fascinating.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Free Will (!)

Given the existence of the laws of physics, of course there can be no such thing as free will.

It might be considered pointless to make this argument in court.


Let me explain.

The notion of dialogue and argument seems to require the concept of free will: you are trying to get your dialogue-partner to change their mind.

Hence the 'no such thing as free will' argument seems self-defeating: if you believe it, why are you bothering to argue with me?

It can be rescued by a kind of instrumentalism. If I say the words of the argument, they could cause your brain-state to alter so that you'll behave differently .. in a way that could be described as 'no longer believing in free will'.

Perhaps then I'll 'get off'. Or the same argument may be used to justify convicting me.

This highlights the autonomy of self-consciousness over mechanism (neurobiology). Free will is part of the architecture of the intentional level, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and others, but it's not present at the neurological level, where it all happens.

Scott Bakker would approve - ordinary mortals not so much.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Roadmap of Crisis Theories

This post could also be entitled, 'The Gurus of Contemporary Marxist Theory', interpreting 'Marxist' rather broadly.

A year ago, when I started to pay more attention to economics, I was clueless as to where to go for high-quality Marxist analysis (even at the start of my search I was not in any doubt that neoclassical economics - in its denial of the class structure of capitalism - was intellectually bankrupt).

I knew about Ernest Mandel of course, but who else was worth reading, and what were the key issues in contemporary debates?

On the latter question I soon discovered that the most important issue was, of course, the Marxist theory of crisis.

From Michael Roberts

On page 15 of Michael Roberts's book, "The Long Depression", he shows a variant of the roadmap below from the San Francisco Bay Area Marxist Study Group (click on image to make larger and more legible).

San Francisco Bay Area Marxist Study Group via Nick Johnson

Incidentally I'm comfortable with Michael Roberts's take on the world because, like him, I'm hard left on the diagram above all the way down 😎.

Roberts is also not that tribal, seeking to understand rather than denounce. This is just as well as he secretly seems as convinced as I am that capitalism has at least another century before the imminence of total automation make production solely for the valorisation of capital essentially impossible.

This view of capitalism's likely future rather depends upon Marx's law of the ‘tendency of the rate of profit to fall’ (TRPF) applying over the long-term. I'm good with that as an empirical reality, increasing automation being the causal mechanism.


So who are the top gurus of Marxist thinking today? I've already mentioned Michael Roberts who has a prolific blog. I should also mention Sam Williams at "A Critique of Crisis Theory".

Moving now to the superstars, we have Dave Harvey, Michael Heinrich and Anwar Shaikh. I have bought books authored by all three. I'd also mention Andrew Kliman, whose book (below) I've just acquired.

Amazon link

While not a Marxist, radical Keynesian Steve Keen gets an honourable mention for bearing the wrath and fury of the entire neoclassical establishment with courage and fortitude. Roberts writes about him here.

So I'm very much a work-in-progress at the moment, struggling hard to get an intuitive view of the dynamics of capitalist economies at all time scales (Michael Roberts's views on cycles are persuasive).

In the background Marx's own writings, Capital Vols 2, 3 and 4 are still on the stack.

Bed bugs: from holiday to home

From The Times today:
"“Bed bugs are having a global resurgence,” William Hentley, from Sheffield University, said. “There’s quite a lot of research looking at how they disperse in apartment buildings, but very little is currently known about how they get from one country to another.”

"We assumed they hitchhiked on humans, but how? For an experiment published in the journal Scientific Reports, he and his colleagues decided to investigate. They had a hunch that the weak link may not be humans, but their smelly luggage. Members of his laboratory spent a day wearing clothes, then piled them in a heap in a room with an infestation. In an identical room they did the same, but with clean clothes.

“We found twice as many bugs on bags containing dirty clothes,” Dr Hentley said. Thanks to the smell, they “found what they thought was a human host.” Then the human takes the bag home, and the bed bugs spread."
I notice they found bedbugs in all the clothes, dirty or not.

We normally take a plastic bin bag and store dirty laundry in that. Probably the slippery sides would be a deterrent .. if we ever frequented the kind of establishment likely to house cimex lectularius.
"Dr Hentley said that when he travels he now keeps a tightly sealed bag, and tries to put it on metal luggage racks, as bed bugs can’t climb shiny surfaces."
The bane of our lives is usually the whining mosquito.


Weird fact from the Wikipedia page: "DNA from human blood meals can be recovered from bed bugs for up to 90 days, which mean they can be used for forensic purposes in identifying on whom the bed bugs have fed."

Here's my tip, which depends on a successful genome to facial appearance mapping. Collect blood-DNA from the collected insects, transcribe each separate genome and reverse-engineer facial appearance. Compare with photos of the prime target. You've identified his or her genome.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Ham Wall (RSPB) - Somerset Levels

We visited the Ham Wall nature reserve this morning. It's on the Somerset Levels, quite close to the Isle of Avalon Glastonbury.

A general view of the wetlands near the entrance

Glastonbury Tor - notice the displaying Cormorant on the lake

This 'rather large Kingfisher' is probably a Heron (or Little Egret)

The author and his wife on the infinite Way

The Adders at 2 ex 9

A Frant Cormorant at 1.5 ex 7

Looking towards the Mendips and the barely-visible 300 metre TV transmitter

Click on any of the pictures to make them larger.

As we traversed the lengthy path which runs - pretty much in a straight line - for 2.7 km through the wetland, we encountered a small ecology of senior citizens, often festooned with long-lens cameras. Cyclists were also common, along with Red Admiral butterflies .. and the usual profusion of regular flies with their unhealthy regard for human hair.

Ham Wall, with its dense reed-beds, is a local centre for starling murmurations but that's all finished now for the year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A run on Zopa?

There is no evidence for, or imminent possibility of, a run on Zopa.


OK, now we've got the scaremongering out of the way, let's examine the substantive issue.

From Wikipedia:
"Zopa enables investors to lend to UK consumers directly through its peer-to-peer lending platform.

"Borrowers can take out loans between £500 and £25,000. Typically individuals use these to funds to help buy a car, consolidate debts, cover home improvements or weddings. All applicants are credit-checked by Zopa.

"Investors’ money enters a queue to be lent in one of three products, which vary according to the risk, returns and accessibility they offer. Once the money reaches the front of the queue, it is split into micro-loans (typically of £10-20 each) that go to multiple borrowers. Investors then receive monthly repayments of interest and capital, which they can relend to compound the interest."
We have funds in Zopa so we have a personal interest in this issue.


Both Steve Keen and Michael Roberts have warned about the overhang of corporate and consumer debt in the UK economy .. portending an upcoming recession. As regards consumer debt, according to This is Money,
"We know that it is largely credit cards, personal loans and car finance, but we aren't quite sure who is doing the borrowing and why – beyond the helpful statistics that debt charities can provide.

Some of this pile of credit card and personal loan debt is down to people who can't make ends meet any other way, a considerable amount is down to others who prefer to live beyond their means and borrow a better lifestyle today from their earnings tomorrow.

"The £201 billion debt pile is now within touching distance of its peak of £208 billion in September 2008 when the financial crisis was in full flow. In the crisis, as worried lenders slammed the doors after the horse had bolted - and done an entire lap of the field – consumer credit dried up and borrowing fell, down to about £160 billion in 2013 to 2014.

"Since then it has been on the rise.

"But that in itself and the absolute size of the pile is not necessarily a problem.You would expect consumer credit to rise in an economic recovery and as long as people's ability to pay back that debt is improving through rising wages, then a higher debt pile becomes an economic factor, not an issue.

"There's a problem in Britain though. Our ability to pay back debt hasn't been improving – real wages have fallen.

"Once our earnings are adjusted for inflation, we have less money to pay back our debt today than we did at the financial crisis peak. The other factor that comes into play here, of course, is interest rates. These, as you won't need to be told, are super low. If you can borrow at those low rates then the affordability of your debt is better, yet here there are also some problems. Firstly, rates will one day have to rise. ..."
A rise in interest rates and/or a pullback from QE could both reduce demand in the economy. As a recession bites, unemployment rises as businesses contract or go bust (see "Zombies hold back the recovery"). The unemployed find it hard to repay debts.

Schroders' chart shows how many months the market has expected to wait for a first
rate rise over the past year. One is now expected in about 10 months, sooner than previously.

With interest rates rising and incomes falling, many consumers will be in difficulties. Perhaps they will be unable to service their debts to credit card companies .. and to peer-to-peer lenders such as Zopa.

But events may move faster yet. Given a tired Tory government with a wafer-thin majority, a political crisis could result in a Corbyn electoral victory .. which might then trigger an economic crisis sooner than we might think.

In normal times, Zopa's bad-debt protocol and stringent credit checks mitigate the risks of default. But in a systemic crisis, the number of bad debts could spiral. This could make loan-books unsaleable for savers trying to exit before they lose the preponderance of their investments. And Zopa is not covered by the UK Government's Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

So the conclusion I draw is to keep a prudent eye on the state of the economy. If we seem poised to enter a consumer-debt-fuelled recession of any severity, I'd be thinking of exiting Zopa earlier rather than later. In the meantime we're quietly reducing our exposure.

Why no mathematical models of Marxist economics?

It's been commonplace in recent decades to observe, even decry the extreme mathematization of orthodox micro- and macroeconomics. But Marxist economics - still an active area of research - remains resolutely descriptive and verbal.

Amazon link

If, nevertheless, you search you come across "Mathematical Model of Marxist Economics" (2015) by Wu Yifeng - but that's in Chinese.

Amazon link

In English we have "Analytical Foundations of Marxian Economic Theory" by John E. Roemer (1989) which is available, partially, as a PDF. Roemer says some sensible things in the introduction about his approach:
"the microfoundations approach consists of deriving the aggregate behavior of an economy as a consequence of the actions of individuals, who are postulated to behave in some specified way. I have taken this approach throughout the book.

For example, in the chapters on the falling rate of profit, it is postulated that a technical innovation is introduced only if it increases profits for a capitalist. This micro approach is different from a macro approach, which might say: We postulate that technical change takes the form of an increasing aggregate organic composition of capital.

From the micro vantage point, one is not allowed to postulate an increasing organic composition of capital unless one can show what individual entrepreneurial mechanism leads to it.

Marxists might question the microfoundations methodology because one of the forceful points of Marx's theory is that the individual is not the relevant unit to examine - it is the class. This might lead one to try and build a model in which classes are the atoms of the system.

I think it should be possible to produce such a model, but I do not believe that model would be contradictory to the ones I have described in this book. The reason is this: that individuals act as members of a class, rather than as individuals, should be a theorem in Marxian economics, not a postulate.

Marx's point is that despite the capitalist's incarnation as a human being, he or she is forced by the system to act as an agent for the self-expansion of capital. Workers, similarly, may have their individual yearnings and habits, but conditions of life force them to acquire a class consciousness and to act, at times, as agents of the working class as a whole and not as their own agent. (This might be the situation, for instance, in a strike, where the striker takes great chances for the good of the strike, which are not personally worthwhile.)

In each case, Marx has claimed that although people exist organically as individuals, we can conclude that they act as members of classes. It is in this sense that class behavior is a theorem and not a postulate of the Marxian theory.

Taking the argument a step further, I would say that it is not only admissible, but important, to take a microfoundations approach in Marxian theory. A common error in Marxian discussions is functionalism: to assume that a mechanism necessarily exists to perform actions that must be performed to reproduce the system.

Put more simply, if the occurrence of X will further the reproduction of capitalist relations, then X occurs. For example, if racist attitudes exist among the working class, then capital will be strong. Therefore, capitalism foments racism.

What is missing here is a description of the mechanism by which this is accomplished. It may be in the interest of capital as a whole to maintain discriminatory wage differentials for black and white workers of equal productivity, but why should the individual, profit-maximizing capitalist respect this differential when he or she can increase profits by unraveling the differential - that is, by hiring only black workers at a slightly higher wage than they are receiving under the racist regime? [For one answer to this question, see Roemer (1979c).]

If we postulate capitalism as a system of anarchic, competitive capitals, each bent on its own expansion, we must face this sort of contradiction from functionalist arguments.

Another example comes from some Marxist-radical theories of education. Capitalism does not require a highly educated working class, so the theory goes, but it does require a well-socialized and docile working class. Schools, then, will serve the role of socializing and channeling people into capitalist society, but not of educating them.

Now, this conclusion may be true, but the functionalist nature of the argument eclipses the mysterious and difficult part of the phenomenon - how does capitalism ensure this role for schools, when teachers try to teach, students try to learn, and so on?

A third example is the role of the state. The capitalist state acts in the interests of the capitalist class - that is the theory. But the theory cannot be convincing unless one can demonstrate the mechanism by which this occurs, especially because capitals do not have a habit of cooperating with each other, as the primary aspect of each capital's existence is self-expansion and competition against other capitals.

What one requires, then, are microfoundations for the role of racism, education, and the state under capitalism. Other examples abound. In the cases when capitalism is guided as if by an invisible hand to coordinate its preservation in the ways mentioned, one requires an explanation of how anarchic capitals produce such a result.

 A second form of functionalism that exists among Marxists is the converse of the first form: If X has occurred, then X must be in the interests of capital. We again can take an example from education:

Because we observe compulsory education, it must be that capital requires such for its reproduction. But this may not be the case: compulsory education may exist because the working class fought for it.

One can find many examples of this form of functionalism in Marxian work: The general consequence of the error is to attribute an omnipotence to the capitalist class that it does not possess in Marxian theory. The capitalist class is pushed along by historical developments: Not everything that happens under capitalism was planned by it, nor is in its best interests. In fact, according to Marx, the general tide of historical development favors the working class. Again, a defense against this form of functionalism is a microfoundations approach.

There is a third form of functionalism among Marxists that, strangely, seems diametrically opposed to the first two forms: If the occurrence of X is necessary for the demise of capitalism, then X will come to pass. We can see the general rule of which these different functionalist forms are special cases if we phrase the general functionalist position this way. We postulate a certain outcome for the social system; functionalism then takes the form of claiming that only events occur which lead to that outcome.

In the first two forms of functionalism discussed, the outcome is the reproduction of capitalist relations; in the third form, the outcome is the transformation of capitalism into socialism. Perhaps the first two forms of functionalism are short-run variants, and the third form is a long-run variant of the general functionalist interpretation of Marxism.

Examples of the third form of functionalism in Marxian economics are prevalent in crisis theory. The system must have crises, because crisis is necessary for capitalist demise. The rate of profit must fall, because only in this way can crisis be brought about. The working class must become impoverished, because otherwise it will never perform its revolutionary task. Bourgeois democracy must transform itself into fascism, because only fascism will heighten the contradictions of capitalism sufficiently to produce revolutionary transformation, which must occur. These arguments are less than convincing; the form of functionalism they involve is similar to that of the utopian socialism of Marx's time, which postulated socialist transformation without a mechanism.

Marx's method was to counter utopian thinking by trying to expose the mechanism that would bring the socialist transformation about. ...

Finally, the equilibrium method has been used in the models in this book. While I have defended the approach of mathematical modeling, and the microfoundations approach, I have less confidence about the equilibrium method. Like many economists of my generation, I am strongly influenced by the power of the equilibrium method: of examining a model when it is at rest, so to speak, in the sense that all the rules that describe how its parts work are simultaneously fulfilled.

What is disturbing about the equilibrium method is that it pictures the typical position of the system as a position the system rarely or never enjoys. Of course, no sophisticated economic model builder would claim that economies are in equilibrium in the sense of a static equilibrium model. A model is only an ideal type.

However, there seems to be a deep contradiction between using models whose main analytical trick is to postulate a position that is precisely at variance with the most interesting and important aspect of capitalist economy as described by Marxian theory - its incessant, contradictory motion.

There is, therefore, the danger that if this intuition is correct, the equilibrium method will prevent one from seeing the most important aspects of the Marxian theory of capital. Knowing no other method, I use the equilibrium method, with the vague thought that, when rereading these pages in twenty years, its obsolescence as a modeling tool for Marxian theory may be clear.

(I might add that there is plenty of precedent in Marx's modeling of his theory for the equilibrium method: Consider, for example, the notion of equalization of profit rates among capitals, or the models of balanced growth designed to show that capitalism was capable of reproducing itself.) ..."
After this thoughtful introduction we encounter chapter 1.
"1 Equilibrium and reproducibility: the linear model

1.1 A brief review

We begin with a discussion of what constitutes an equilibrium, in Marxian terms, of a capitalist economy, and for this chapter we study a linear, Leontief specification of production.

Capitalists all have access to the same Leontief production system {A, L}, where

   A is an n x n input matrix of commodities

   L is a 1 x n vector of direct labor inputs.

If p is a l x n commodity price vector and the wage is normalized at unity so that prices p are interpreted as wage prices, then the usual notion of an equilibrium-price vector in a Marxian system is a vector p for which there exists a nonnegative number π such that

   p = (1 + π)(pA + L)           (1.1)

The vector pA + L is the vector of unit costs of production (assuming that there are no fixed capital costs), and so π may be interpreted as the uniform profit rate for the economy.

There may be, of course, many pairs (p, π) satisfying Equation 1.1.

We add more information to the system by requiring that workers each receive a subsistence vector of commodities b, an n x 1 vector. By subsistence, we mean simply that the wage must be precisely sufficient for b to be affordable, thus

   pb = 1                                 (1.2)

Here, the unit of time that denominates L, which is the same unit of time for which the wage of unity is paid, is to be thought of as one working day.

Combining (1.1) and (1.2), we see immediately that

   p = (1 + π)p(A + bL)         (1.3)

Thus, for a vector p satisfying (1.1) and (1.2) to exist, it is necessary and sufficient that the augmented input coefficient matrix M = A + bL possess an eigenvalue 1/(1 + π) that does not exceed one, to which can be associated a nonnegative eigenvector p.

According to the Frobenius—Perron theorem, if M is an indecomposable matrix, then M has a unique eigenvalue that can qualify; that is, M possesses a unique positive eigenvalue to which can be associated a nonnegative eigenvector. It is, furthermore, the content of Morishima-Okishio's fundamental Marxian theorem (FMT) that if the rate of exploitation e is positive, then the Frobenius eigenvalue of M will be less than one, and so the associated profit rate will be strictly positive. ..."
and so it goes on. One reviewer writes:
"The analytical rigor in treating the subject is among the things that make the book worth buying for anyone interested in mathematical economics: sitting down with paper and pencil for a couple of months in reading the book will be a beautiful intellectual experience, and it will add a whole set of "weapons" to the neoclassically trained economist."
But perhaps we just don't yet have the right (agent-based?) mathematics for Marx.


When I did my PhD research - the formal theory of intentional agents - I explicitly rejected the framework of differential equations used by the control theorists and the cyberneticists (cf Ross Ashby). For the same reason I am somewhat skeptical about aspects of Peter Turchin's Cliodynamics.

My approach was in the classical AI tradition of modal logics and generalised automata theory where intentional agents (those with perceptions, beliefs, goals, plans, actions) are modelled explicitly. I still think this is the best approach to a twenty-first century formalised, Marxist, psychohistory.