2017/05/18

Chris Dillow: When bad arguments work

Chris Dillow finds When bad arguments work.

It’s often said that many people oppose higher taxes on top earners because they hope (mostly wrongly) to become one themselves. But this is only part of the story. We sympathize with the rich not (just) because we hope to become rich ourselves, but because we hear so damned much from them.

There’s a nasty flipside to this. If we don’t hear from people, we tend not to sympathize with them. Separate experiments by Agne Kajackaite has shown this. She got people to work where the rewards went not just to them but to a bad cause (the NRA). She found that when people chose not to know whether the money was donated to that cause, they behaved more selfishly; they worked harder to make money for themselves. “Ignorant agents behave in a more selfish way” she concludes.

Thigh might well have political effects. WBecause the worst-off have less voice, we are relatively ignorant of their suffering and so less sympathetic to them. Support for benefit cuts isn’t based solely upon outright untruths, but upon a lack of sympathy for them caused by their relative lack of voice.

Most of us, I guess, can name far more people who are in the top 5% of the income distribution than in the bottom 5%. This introduces a bias towards the rich.

My point here is that the media’s bias isn’t merely conscious and deliberate. There are more subtle ways in which it serves the interests of the well-off.

Emphasis Mine

The workers need to continually raise their voices through protests, strikes, and their own media. We cannot be silent. Our voices matter. We should rely on celebrities to promote our causess. This we must do ourselves.

Also, this is the reason that the state keeps restricting those actions through laws and regulations. A quiet population is easier to suppress.


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2017/01/26

Ted Rall: The Women's March Failed But Was Hopeful Too

Ted Rall writes that The Women’s March Failed But Was Hopeful Too.

A good indication that the Women’s March got co-opted into a Democratic boo-hoo Hillary/Cory Booker-in-2020 pep rally was that the speakers were limited to celebrity millionaire liberal Democrats like Michael Moore, Ashley Judd and Gloria Steinem and defanged ex-radicals like Angela Davis. Had this been a militant action (i.e., one that might frighten Trump and the GOP), or a coalition of liberals who welcomed and respected their leftist allies rather than merely wanting to vampirize their righteous anger and energy into midterm votes, the roster of speakers would have included people calling for revolutionary change and action outside of the existing system. There would also have been some radical activists you’d never heard of who do important work.

Celebrity liberalism and pleas to vote Democratic are where the Left goes to die.

No wonder the Women’s March was doomed to join the list of fruitless liberal marches! Because they’re Democrats, none of the speakers suggested scrapping the whole sick system of systemized poverty, industrialized prisons, war and slave labor altogether. Instead marchers got a washed-up documentary filmmaker urging them to memorize a phone number they could use to call Congress because, yeah, that’s going to do so much good, especially these days with Republicans in charge of everything.

Still, despite the Democratic BS, those huge crowds were glorious. They showed up, they were heard, they hint at the better country we could have.

May they soon get the radical, genuine political movement they and the world deserve.

Emphasis Mine

The liberals continually fight a rear-guard action against radical popular unrest. This is something the right does not want to understand. The liberals and the right are defending the same system: Capitalism.

However, the attacks by the right on the liberals give the liberals credibility they would otherwise not have. In other words, the elites put on a Punch-and-Judy show between the liberals and the right with accompanying thunder and lightening while signifying nothing.

… it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The Tragedy of Macbeth — Act 5, Scene 5


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Kurds Will Come Together to Discuss Independence With Baghdad

TeleSur reports that Kurds Will Come Together to Discuss Independence With Baghdad.

Kurdish independence “is a reality that will come true,” said Masoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.

Kurdish parties will meet with the Iraqi government to discuss independence, reported Kurdish media on Saturday.

The delegation will include five Kurdish parties, who will meet with Turkmen, Chaldean and Assyrian delegates, reported Rudaw, which is funded by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP.

Emphasis Mine

Unfortunately, Kurdish independence is a major threat to Turkey who has been fighting and suppressing Kurds within its own borders for decades. Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq will probably be immediately followed by a Turkish invasion and occupation in order to deny the Kurdish resistance groups in Turkey a safe haven and a politcal base.

Also, Kurdish independence would likely devolve into a Kurdish civil war as various factions vie for hegemony. It is not that Kurdistan is a political goal among Kurds, it is just that Kurdistan exists as a vague, feel-good idea. It is not strong enough to overcome the antipathy between the Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian Kurds and their long history of fighting among themselves.

From Iraq's point of view, the loss of a major oil-producing region to an independent state would also interpose another state to control the water supply to Iraq. Already, Turkey is taking large amounts of water away from Iraq. Although, the unification of Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan would mean that there would be a possibly more friendly state controlling Iraqi water supply.

At this stage, I think Kurdistan as an idependent state is a remote dream. Kurdistan as a loose confederation of autonomous regions in Syria and Iraq is far more likely. This is a potential reward for the eventual defeat of Daesh.


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2017/01/04

James Taylor: Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis

Scott Adams says to Show this article to a climate change worrier and watch the cognitive dissonance happen. It will be fun. (Seriously.). The article is Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis by James Taylor.

Don’t look now, but maybe a scientific consensus exists concerning global warming after all. Only 36 percent of geoscientists and engineers believe that humans are creating a global warming crisis, according to a survey reported in the peer-reviewed Organization Studies. By contrast, a strong majority of the 1,077 respondents believe that nature is the primary cause of recent global warming and/or that future global warming will not be a very serious problem.

The survey results show geoscientists (also known as earth scientists) and engineers hold similar views as meteorologists. Two recent surveys of meteorologists (summarized here and here) revealed similar skepticism of alarmist global warming claims.

According to the newly published survey of geoscientists and engineers, merely 36 percent of respondents fit the “Comply with Kyoto” model. The scientists in this group “express the strong belief that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

Emphasis Mine

It would appear that Adams read Taylor's article and stopped at confirmation bias. But since Taylor's article severly challenged my views, I read the original paper rather than let cognitive dissonance happen.

As for the other papers,

In the Organization Studies paper (Lefsrud and Meyer (2012)), the abstract says:

This paper examines the framings and identity work associated with professionals’ discursive construction of climate change science, their legitimation of themselves as experts on ‘the truth’, and their attitudes towards regulatory measures. Drawing from survey responses of 1077 professional engineers and geoscientists, we reconstruct their framings of the issue and knowledge claims to position themselves within their organizational and their professional institutions. In understanding the struggle over what constitutes and legitimizes expertise, we make apparent the heterogeneity of claims, legitimation strategies, and use of emotionality and metaphor. By linking notions of the science or science fiction of climate change to the assessment of the adequacy of global and local policies and of potential organizational responses, we contribute to the understanding of ‘defensive institutional work’ by professionals within petroleum companies, related industries, government regulators, and their professional association.

Emphasis Mine

The paper would then appear to be about the cognitive dissonance of those professionals within the petroleum industry as they try to reconcile their work with reality. So, Adams could be right in a way that he does not expect. Here, I equate cognitive dissonance with defensive institutional work.

Lefsrud and Meyer (2012) write about their sample:

Given our nonprobability sample, there are limitations. First, though it is not our intent to generalize to larger populations but to create theoretical generalizability, response bias is still a possible concern. However, such concern is reduced by the accessibility of the survey to all APEGA members without any systematic exclusion, the fact that members were responding to a survey by their regulator as they normally would, the respectable size of our sample, and the apparent representativeness of respondents to the membership as a whole. Second, framings are socio-historical constructions — embedded in specific worldviews, social positions, and interests that are bounded in space and time. Thus, the specific socio-economic location of our group of experts — the constellation of professional designations and industries, and the relevance of the petroleum industry for Alberta — may influence the findings, especially the frequency of frames. In addition, while these experts’ framings may have represented those of October 2007 in Alberta, Canada, the science and policy positions may have since shifted there as elsewhere.

Emphasis Mine

I understand this to mean what Upton Sinclair once wrote:

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

THis seems to accord with one of the conclusions to :

Third, we show that the consensus of IPCC experts meets a much larger, and again heterogenous, sceptical group of experts in the relevant industries and organizations (at least in Alberta) than is generally assumed. We find that climate science scepticism is not limited to the scientifically illiterate (per Hoffman, 2011a), but well ensconced within this group of professional experts with scientific training — who work as leaders or advisors to management in governmental, non-governmental, and corporate organizations. Following Levy and Rothenberg’s (2002) examination of the automotive industry, we find that professional experts employed in the petroleum industry are more likely to be sceptical of the IPCC and of anthropogenic climate change. Given this, the defensive institutional work of these professionals to maintain existing institutions clearly exceeds the mere maintenance of ‘routines and rituals of their reproduction’ (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006, p. 234). Marquis and Lounsbury (2007) suggest that banking professionals are more able to resist due to their stronger professional identity; Jonsson (2009) finds that professional resistance differs across firms, depending upon the relative influence of professionals and the logics associated. Our research connects and extends these findings to understand how defensive institutional work is performed in response to insider-driven challenges. We find that the heterogeneity of professionals’ framings is a function of their degree of identification/mobilization with others (as suggested by Marquis & Lounsbury, 2007) but is also a function of their degree of defensiveness against others (as suggested by Maguire & Hardy, 2009), even other insiders. Further, these professionals’ framings are also linked to their position within their firm (as suggested by Jonsson, 2009), to their industry, and to the industry’s relevance for the region (Levy & Rothenberg, 2002). We discuss this in more detail below. Hence, our findings give greater granularity in understanding which professionals are more likely to resist, why and how they will resist, and who is more likely to be successful.

Emphasis Mine

In other words, the more strongly professionals identify with the petroleum industry, the more likely they are to be climate change skeptics. And the more strongly they identify with their profession, the more strongly they accept the consensus of climate science researchers. Thus, the cognitive dissonance appears to happen with the skeptics.


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2017/01/02

Arash Azizi: After Trotskyism, what? Some personal thoughts

Arash Azizi writes about After Trotskyism, what? Some personal thoughts.

Marxists and those (like myself) who have an affinity for the 1917 tradition need to unite with others around the political and practical double goals of: 1) improving the lives of the working people and the oppressed here and now, and; 2) striving at a radical transformation of society and building of a socialist alternative to capitalism.

The strategies toward these goals will differ in different countries, based on their political conditions, the balance of classes and the existing organizations and traditions. In general, however, there is a basic fact that the revolutionary left needs to come to peace with: It needs to win power by convincing a majority of a population to support its vision. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean basically turning into an electoral machine. To slightly paraphrase Eugene Debs, elections are to socialism what a menu is to a meal. It is a fact, however, that the liberal democratic order, a system in which the government of the day is elected on the basis of universal suffrage, is now dominant across much of the globe (it is worth remembering that in Lenin’s time, it was almost entirely non-existent, hence a long Marxist struggle for universal suffrage) and wherever it isn’t, it is probably an imperative for us to unite with liberals for democratic goals. Democratic conditions can actually offer an excellent opportunity for socialists: Build support for our vision; convince a majority that we can offer a workable, real socialist alternative; and come to power and start implementing it! Of course, there would be resistant from the capitalist class and, of course, our strategy needs to take that into account too. But to move against a democratically-elected government is not an easy task, especially if it is based on an active support of millions of workers.

This might seem very mundane at the first glance but, ask yourself, how many socialists and revolutionaries are asking themselves: How can we build an organization that is ready to win support of the majority and form a government? How many are telling themselves: “The test of socialist politics is how I can win over large numbers of people, which is possible by meeting them where they are at, not by trying to be the most left-wing guy in the room?”

In asking such questions, we’d need to be forward-looking and accept that not all differences need to be solved for leftist to unite in an organization. It is silly for socialists not to be organizationally united in pursuit of goals today because they disagree over the class nature of the Soviet Union or because they have a slightly different take on the Palestinian struggle.

Building of leftist institutions that are something beyond their name, real organizations that can represent a significant portion of a country’s politics, is a very difficult task but it is rewarding at the end. It will influence the lives of the working people here and now, it will consolidate our power and it will offer a clear route to power. It will also create a space that could help blossom the kind of thinking that is needed to address the massive questions that we will face if we are to actually conduct the mammoth task of transition to socialism.

Needless to say, in building such vehicles we should never abandon the organizations that the working class has already built which, almost all over the world, means the parties that historically belong to the Second or Third Internationals. One of the mistakes of the left has been prematurely abandoning these organizations whereas the recent victory of Corbyn in the UK shows that even if your organization is led by the likes of Tony Blair, there is a chance that the left could come to power in them and start their transformation.

What we need more than ever is an end to the mentality of small circles and an audacity to prepare for real socialist change in our own lifetimes. It is time to offer the working people, our people, the political instrument that it deserves.

Emphasis Mine

Azizi's argument is for Socialists to engage with the Labour parties of the world. They are where the workers are—both physically and intellectually.

The Socialist Alliance has sufferred several splits over the years:

  1. 13 May 2008
  2. 2-3 July 2016

The position of the Socialist Alliance on the Australian Labour Party is:

The Australian Labor Party (ALP), formed more than a century ago by trade union officials and sections of the intelligentsia, now acts as a systematic agent for capitalist rule in the labour movement.

ALP governments have always defended the interests of the capitalist system and worked to contain trade union and other social movement struggles within the framework of capitalist parliamentary politics.

The ALP has fostered parliamentarism, class-collaboration, racism, xenophobia and protectionism as ways to divert the working class from seriously confronting the capitalists and their governments. It has promoted the false idea that workers in Australia have more in common with their ‘Australian’ bosses than with the working masses in other countries — particularly in the colonial and semicolonial countries. Therefore, a central part of socialist struggle in this country today is to win the working class away from the conservative domination of the ALP.

While it still retains a significant base in the working class, all ALP governments since the 1980s have played a leading role in the capitalist neoliberal offensive. With the collaboration of the trade union bureaucracy the Labor leadership has severely weakened the trade union movement and constrained it from taking independent mass action.

In this period the ALP has increasingly abandoned championing new reforms — or even defending previously won reforms — in the interest of the working class and other oppressed groups.

Emphasis Mine

The political situation in Australia has not given rise to SYRIZA, Corbyn, or Sanders. So, we cannot use those experiences in the Australian context. We need to be where the workers are, not where we think they should be.


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2016/11/25

Dan Little: Coarse-graining of complex systems

Dan Little writes about Coarse-graining of complex systems.

I am not sure whether these debates have relevance for the modeling of social phenomena. Recall my earlier discussion of the modeling of rebellion using agent-based modeling simulations (link, link, link). These models work from the unit level — the level of the individuals who interact with each other. A coarse-graining approach would perhaps replace the individual-level description with a set of groups with homogeneous properties, and then attempt to model the likelihood of an outbreak of rebellion based on the coarse-grained level of description. Would this be feasible?

Emphasis Mine

Marxists use coarse-graining as a matter of course. We have the ideas of classes with the possibility of dividing those classes into strats.

For example, we divide a Capitalist society into two (2) major classes:

  1. Capitalists
  2. Workers

There are other classes, but they do not figure in the major dynamic of the class struggle between Capitalists and Workers.

The Capitalist class can be further divided into two (2) major strata:

  1. Big Capitalists
  2. Small Capitalists

Even though Donald Trump, Mark Cuban, Eric Schmidt, and Bill Gates have wildly different temperments, histories, world-views, and political philosophies, they have enough similarities to be lumped together as Big Capitalists. Here the coarse-graining is concentrating on those attributes that are essential to model the behaviour of a typical Big Capitalist.


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2016/11/21

Chris Dillow: On class politics

Chris Dillow writes On class politics.

There is, however, a more intelligent form of class politics. This starts from the fact that class isn’t a state of mind but an objective fact: if you’re in a position of subordination to an employer, you’re working class whatever you feel. This means that being working class unites otherwise disparate people. The immigrant chambermaid, the skilled coder whose boss is a twat, and the academic facing the neoliberalization of the university are all working class.

This means they have some common interests. All would benefit from increased control in the workplace and increased bargaining power.

In this sense, class politics should be a unifying force. And there needn’t be a conflict between class politics in this sense and identity politics, for at least three reasons:

Of course, all this is easier said than done. One challenge for the left – which is as great today as in Marx’s time – is to build class consciousness. Politics isn’t just a marketing exercise aimed at getting our person into office. It’s about building a constituency for intelligent class politics. This is a long game.

But let’s remember the underlying fact here. The interests of the working class are, to a fair extent, the interests of most people. In this sense, the working class is not a problem in politics. It’s the solution.

Emphasis Mine

Thank you, Donald J. Trump, for overthrowing identity politics, and allowing class politics to reappear.

No more, the soothing voice of Barak Obama lulling us into a prison of apathy.

Trump has truly awaken us.

Now what are we going to do with this opportunity?


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2016/11/18

Chris Dillow: Ideology in economics

Chris Dillow writes about Ideology in economics.

Now, you might find this surprising. We Marxists are supposed to be spittle-flecked ideologues, and yet here I am demanding facts and utility.

But of course, there’s no paradox at all. As a Marxist, I have no skin in the game of whether the CAPM or efficient theory is right or not: such matters are orthogonal to my concerns qua Marxist. And in fact even if Robert Lucas’s main points were right — that business cycles are an optimum response to technology shocks with little welfare cost — a lot of Marxism would survive. Such claims are consistent with the notion that capitalism is exploitative and alienating and leads to unacceptable inequalities of wealth and power.

It’s sometimes said that Marxism brings ideology into economics. For me, though, it takes it out.

Emphasis Mine

Dillow is correct to insist that theory fit the facts.


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Ted Rall: Trump’s Fascism Picks Up Where Obama’s Leaves Off

Ted Rall writes that Trump’s Fascism Picks Up Where Obama’s Leaves Off.

Could President Trump deploy drones against American citizens (or non-citizens) on American soil? Yes, he could, says Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder. Obama could have declared that he — and future presidents — did not have that power. Better still, he could have asked Congress to pass a law banning domestic drone killings. Instead, he went golfing.

From what we know of Trump’s likely cabinet appointments, the next few years promise to devolve into a dystopian nightmare of authoritarian repression the likes of which few Americans ever imagined possible. As we head into the maelstrom, it will be tempting to look back fondly upon the Obama years as a period of relative calm and liberalism.

But don’t forget the truth. Fascism under Trump will merely continue Obama’s fascism with a smiley face — a fascism that we let him get away with for far too long.

Emphasis Mine

Rall is correct to point out that the instruments of State terror have been accumulating for some time. The smiling face of Obama has made them seem quaint.

The election of Trump has awaken some people to the fear that these instruments could be used against them.


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