Saturday, April 19, 2014

Comments on Tim Shenk review of Piketty by Richard Drayton

It seems Doug Henwood does not like the Tim Shenk review of Piketty. Commenters bring in all sorts of jibes from status to ABD on his timeline. May be an indication why people on the left find it difficult to join forces; there is no unifying aim like making profits. Richard Drayton comments " He is a serious, if a young, public intellectual. We live in strange times if a 30 year old can't intervene in debates." 
Richard Drayton further comments on the review "I don't think that's quite fair Doug. Here's what the article is doing:
(1) explaining to readers the fact, which is far from intuitive for most people, that the idea of capitalism was first crystallized by its critics, in particular socialists,
(2) offering that the paradox of the 1989 moment was that - "nothing did more to entrench the acceptance of capitalism than the demise of the movement that had invented the concept",
(3) explaining the 2008 return to the centre of critiques of capitalism, The Occupy scene and its intellectual cross currents (Jacobin and N+1 etc),
(4) locating the significance of Piketty's Capital (and P. and Saez's earlier identification of the 1%), explaining how it brings together Kuznets and national accounting econometrics with political economy to provide a new longue duree model of inequality
(5) discusses the limits of P's vision of the past and the future
(6) ending with a rather valuable expression of hope (god knows we need episodes of optimism) that P. may become used by others who will make a 21st century post-capitalist social thought."

Tim Shenk responds "Richard, thank you for that summary. I would just add that I'm also trying to explain the longer intellectual history behind Piketty's political economy, hence all that talk about all the non-Marxist (but still socialist) attempts to transcend capitalism." From The Economist Book Club
"As we have discussed several times, a key part of Mr Piketty's story is that the rate of return on capital, r, is greater than the rate of economic growth, g. Critics have suggested that this is at odds with economic theory, but Mr Piketty is not making a theoretical point; he is observing that, empirically, r has been greater than g throughout most of history. If the theory is inconsistent with that, then that is the theory's problem." and also comments on Martin Wolf review which questions whether inequality matters.

Tracking flu levels with Wikipedia

from sciencedaily "Cn monitoring Wikipedia hits show how many people have the flu? Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, USA, have developed a method of estimating levels of influenza-like illness in the American population by analysing Internet traffic on specific flu-related Wikipedia articles.
David McIver and John Brownstein's model, publishing in PLOS Computational Biology on April 17th, estimates flu levels in the American population up to two weeks sooner than data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention becomes available, and accurately estimates the week of peak influenza activity 17% more often than Google Flu Trends data."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez on Allende

Why Allende had to die (via Rahul Siddharthan)

Friday, April 18, 2014


Reading Piketty and following various reviews took over forty days leading to a burst of weeds in the garden. It took six days, usually 2-3 hours a day but five yesterday, to get the backyard into some shape. Possibly, I will have to spend as much time on the front. But all the time on Piketty has been worthwhile I think. Experts will discuss the finer points but the overall picture is simple and clear. Capital is like a weed, if you don't watch for a while it will grow and spread from Iraq to Ukraine. In spite of Piketty's allergy for Marx, Marx looms in the background. May be time to read some Marxists who do not mention thesis and anti-thesis.
P.S. Here is a start. Benjamin Kunkel explains David Harvey.

Methodical sedition

says The Chronicle of Higher Education in Capital Man
And an interview with Thomas Piketty by Jonathan Derbyshire. Excerpt:
"A big difference between today and a hundred years ago is that you have 20-30 per cent of national wealth in the UK and other European countries belonging to what I describe in the book as the “patrimonial middle class”, by which I mean the 40 per cent of the population that is neither in the top 10 per cent nor the bottom 50 per cent.  The bottom 50 per cent still own less than 5 per cent of the total, so that hasn’t changed much over the past century.
So the existence of this patrimonial middle class makes a big difference to the political, social and economic landscape. The question is what happens next? Is this group going to get stronger or is it going to shrink? Is their share of national wealth going to be reduced, which is, to some extent, what has been happening in the past 30 years?"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"The Music Room" by Namita Devidayal

Richard Singer has started reading it. My reaction on his timeline " "The Music Room" has some thing that I can only faintly comprehend. My cousins tell me that I have always been anti-authoritarian. So it is difficult for me to imagine that kind obedience and discipline. The author's other pieces are full of cliches, but here she seemed touched by some thing transcendent. It seems to be some thing that Indian music and the traditional practice seems to do. Many of those musicians seem ordinary people but that sadhana, sometimes lifelong, does some thing. They say that some of them achieve their best in their sixties and seventies. Ramachandra Guha thinks that it is one field that Indians achieved greatness. I do not understand but it is fascinating and Namita has been able to convey some of it."
And here is a brief story about Mallikarjuna Mansur:
"Mansur’s first commercial record was released in 1933 and the next two years saw more releases. The repertoire on these records consisted of khayal, Marathi theatre songs, thumris, Kannada bhajans and other songs. These recordings brought fame to Mansur and he was invited to perform in Mumbai every year....In 1935, Mansur unexpectedly met Manji Khan, son and disciple of Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana, who agreed to accept him as his disciple after listening to his record. His training with Manji Khan continued until the latter’s death in 1937. Thereafter, Mansur began learning from Manji Khan’s younger brother Bhurji Khan. When Bhurji Khan moved to Kolhapur with Alladiya Khan two years later, Mansur earned and saved enough money to rent a hotel room and learn from Bhurji Khan in Kolhapur. For many years, Mansur took training for three to four months at a stretch in Kolhapur and returned to Dharwad for a month or so. Bhurji Khan died in 1960, but subsequently, Mansur learnt compositions from Bhurji Khan’s son Azizuddin Khan."

Still sharp at 90

To me the the most interesting remarks are from Robert Solow. The first two come between 31-39 minutes and the second 53-56:30. The whole discussion is interesting.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ian Welsh review of Piketty

The Age of the Obvious: Thomas Piketty's Capital Excerpt : "History is not inevitable: decisions are made by people that change its outcome.
As for Piketty’s prescription: a wealth tax is fine as far as it goes, but the question isn’t whether the rich should be taxed, the question is how to create a world where they can be taxed.
That question, and questions like how we could increase the technological rate of improvement, increase the power of the commons, allow national policy by dismantling so-called “free trade”, and so on, are not dealt with.
But Piketty’s book is still important, because it proves the obvious beyond a reasonable doubt.  In this it is similiar to the mountain of evidence of climate change.  We can now say that climate change is happening and anyone who denies it is a fool.  Likewise we can now say that allowing returns on unearned wealth to be higher than labor income, in a capitalist economy, leads to high inequality and doesn’t improve the economy.  We should have known that already; we did know it already; now it has been proved to the point where we can say anyone who denies it is a fool."

From the Marathi film Natarang 2010

More about the movie in Wikipedia

FTalphaville on what a Modi overnment may not be able to do

From The Lok Sabha of Dreams,  "...the specific hope is that a shiny new BJP-led coalition will kick-start that virtuous cycle as projects are unblocked and investments waved through a la Modi’s creation tale of Tata in Gujarat." may be just that, a hope.
"The broad hope is that, as Goldman said a little while back, a positive cycle can be unleashed if projects get unclogged, increasing cash flow for infra companies (which account for 30 per cent of stressed loans), enabling loan repayments, and healing bank balance sheets, which can allow a fresh lending cycle to start."
But "All told, the fact that most implementation bottlenecks lie within the realm of state governments over which the Center has little leverage, and there is a significant debt overhang facing the infrastructure sector and public sector banks, suggests that expectations of a sharp and sustained pick-up appear optimistic at least in the coming quarters."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Brad DeLong has notes and exercises on Piketty

One problem in the equation r>g is that we do not know what fraction is spent and how much is reinvested again. Brad Delong has a discussion on this using four variables, four parameters and standard models. I do not understand this but such discussions are expected from experts. May be Paul Krugman will clarify at some stage.

Fabulous story from NY Times magazine

with music that sends chills down the spine The ballad of Geeshie and Elvie.

I have been trying to understand this for a long time

Hamilton's Equation,  Price Equation and other things discussed in The Good Fight by Eric Michael Johnson. It helps a bit but am not there yet.