Recommend some good political economy

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Recommend some good political economy

Postby sanha926 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:19 am

Hi all,

Thomas Piketty, the French economist who became famous for his work on income inequality with Emmanuel Saez, is about to publish a new book that might be of interest: ... nt=reviews

Mainstream pundits are already heralding the book as a major breakthrough. But will Piketty have anything new to say about capital theory?
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Re: Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Postby blairfix » Mon Feb 24, 2014 6:00 pm

On the topic of capital theory, I just ran across two articles that are absolutely fascinating:

J.B. Glattfelder and S. Battiston:
Backbone of complex networks of corporations: The flow of control Physical Review E 80 (2009)

Vitali S, Glattfelder JB, Battiston S (2011) The Network of Global Corporate Control. PLoS ONE 6(10)

This is some of the best empirical work on corporate ownership ... and its being published in physics & science journals. Go figure.

Both are on the technical side, but the conclusions are straightforward. Like CaSP, both articles study the "core" of capital.

Vitali, looking at effective control of public corporations, finds that a core of "only
737 top holders accumulate 80% of the control over the value of all TNCs". He continues - "3/4 of the ownership of firms in the core remains in the hands of firms of the core itself" and that "3/4 of the core are financial intermediaries".

Glattfelder, looking at stock ownership, finds that dispersion of "local control" (normalized number of shareholders in a core or "backbone" company) gives the illusion of equality. In fact, higher degrees of local control correlate with higher concentration of stock ownership by top owners (low fraction of owners controlling 80% of market value).

These articles offer fascinating analysis - but are likely opaque to the non-specialist. They also lack any sort of explanatory framework. I think this stuff should be incorporated into CaSP and better explained to the lay audience.
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby jmc » Tue Feb 25, 2014 4:12 pm

I changed the title so the thread can be used to recommend or request good reads in political economy.
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby blairfix » Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:56 pm

I continue to be fascinated with economist's attempts to derive quantity measure's of output. Usually, textbook examples stick to the quantity of goods -- which is at least intuitive until one investigates more deeply.

However, the attachment of a quantity to services, and then attempts to measure changes in this underlying quantity borders on the absurd. I found the following paper on the subject. The intellectual gymnastics are truly amazing.

I particularly liked the following bit about a classroom with poor students (pp. 13-14)

"The teacher is trying to impart some of his or her knowledge directly to the pupils through instruction. But because of the student's inability to receive this knowledge, there is no change in their condition. Hill argues that the teacher's effort is wasted and cannot be counted as productive. Hence there is no output."

"However, it is reasonable to argue that if someone is paying the teacher to be in the classroom, the teacher must be providing some service. This particular ambiguity can be resolved by specifying what the teacher agrees to provide and what the students or their parents expect to receive. The teacher agrees to appear in front of the class and to deliver lectures. Even if the students learn nothing, the teacher is enabling them to meet the legal requirement that they must attend school until a certain age. Viewed this way, there actually is an output."

Good thing we cleared this up. Teachers do have an output!
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby blairfix » Fri May 02, 2014 2:51 pm

A good article recently in the New York Times:

The article highlights how US prices for education and healthcare have soared, while prices for TVS and phones has plummeted.

So a CPI index will completely mask this type of relative price change. It seems that average price indexes are becoming more meaningless with time.
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby blairfix » Wed Jul 09, 2014 11:51 pm

Interesting talk given by LSE economist Mark Blaug a few years ago:

At time 49:22 a listener brings up the subject of the "Edgeworth Box", a thought experiment in welfare economics that shows why market exchange is pareto-optimal.

Here is what I would have said, had I been in the room.

First, lets clarify the Edgeworth box. Two market participants meet, say Steve and Bob. Steve owns 10 goats, while Bob owns 5 cows. Steve and Bob exchange goats and cows and leave the transaction now owning some of each.

According to welfare economics, here is a situation that is guaranteed to be Pareto-optimal ... no party can be made bettor off without making another worse off. Since both parties entered the agreement voluntarily, we know that they are both now better off . Even though we neither measure nor make interpersonal comparisons of utility (which most economists agree we cannot do), we now know that both individuals are better off, because if they were not, they would not have agreed to the exchange.

This is impeccable logic ... so impeccable that it is true by definition. It rests on the following reasoning:

If person A does B, then B increases the utility of person A.
If B does not increase the utility of person A, then person A does not do B.

This statement is so powerful, it can explain any conceivable behavior. Here it is taken to the point of the grotesque:

Bob committed suicide .. .Therefore commuting suicide increased Bob's utility.

Karl Popper warned against theories based on such circular logic: they are irrefutable. Yet, the more I read, the more I find it at the heart of much of social scientific theory. Discourse analysis is another one. As a professor explained to me ''discourse does us ... we cannot escape it ... it shapes our very mode of thinking''. Here again is a theory that can explain everything, much the same as Popper found that Freudian psycho-analysis could explain all conceivable human behavior. While many theorists consider the wide explanatory scope of a theory an asset, Popper considered it a liability. The more specific a theory, the more specific its predictions, the more easily it can be falsified.

As researchers, then, we spend most of our time thinking about what our pet theories can explain. Perhaps it is better to think about what they cannot explain.
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby wayburn » Thu Nov 26, 2015 4:11 am

Regrettably, I do not have the time or "energy" to provide an original reply tailored to this article; therefore, I shall cut and paste material from my blog at If there is the slightest interest and the need for clarifications arises, I will provide additional explanations and comments:

We Need a New Monetary System: The complete essay as far as I got

I have entered the various parts of the following in my blog at ; however, since it is best read as a single idea, I have posted it to my friends, colleagues, allies, comrades, and detractors on two Yahoo! forums. (I hope my Australian friends are not offended by a post that applies strictly to the US.) Jay Hanson says that, if we cannot fix government, we can’t fix anything. I agree. We do not have to find a way to bell the cat; we need only install a government dedicated to achieving sustainability insofar as it is possible and doing the best it can otherwise. This government must be composed of qualified scientists, engineers, ecologists, and other legitimate scholars - independent, with no corporate ties. When the economic plan is in place, the exchange of US dollars for ANYTHING should be an extraditable capital offense.

We need a new monetary system.

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. - Matthew 5:30

Defects of our present monetary system

My Incomplete List

I do not need a list of defects to be offended by the current monetary system of the US; however, I shall mention a few fatal flaws that are likely to lead to collapse soon.

1. Like all fiat money the United States dollar (USD) is not tied to any real wealth such as gold bullion, barrels of oil, or acres of fertile soil. Its value depends upon what people will give for it. (Let us agree for the purposes of this argument only that the presence of United States military personnel in hundreds of foreign countries has nothing to do with the willingness of foreign nationals to accept it in payment for real goods.) The quantity of money can be altered by the issuance of debt instruments by banks and others - especially the federal government; hence, we are always susceptible to monetary inflation, that is, inflation caused by a larger supply of money chasing the same or a smaller amount of real goods and services.

2. The rules according to which economic transactions are conducted so favor talented money managers that they are able to acquire a disproportionate share of the money.

3. Etc. (Items can be added to this list by edits and comments; but, for now, I would like, once again, to refer to Gail Tverberg’s list and paste it below.)

Gail Tverberg’s List

Primary problems

1. Funds are not available to pay for fossil-fuel subsidies for renewable energy projects.
2. Wages consistent with financial solvency and private profit are too low.
3. Energy production companies, especially heavily front-loaded renewable energy production such as photovoltaic solar energy installations, need to borrow money that the credit system can no longer supply.
4. There are insufficient financial returns to pay taxes desperately needed by governments.

Secondary problems

1. Private profit from energy production is seen as inadequate by corporations.
2. Rent cannot be paid for land used in energy production. This cost might be highest in bio-fuel operations, but it belongs to every process that harvests sunlight in real time.
3. Insufficient funds are available to prevent pollution and mitigate its effects. These costs are never paid unless mandated by law - if then.
4. Energy production companies do not pay to prevent mineral depletion and degradation of soil or even try to nor do they pay fines for failure.
5. Energy producers do not account for limitations in so-called free energy. For example, there ought to be a cost premium charged to the process for using limited coastal or off-shore wind power sites.
In conclusion

Let us agree then to take the advice of the fictional Jesus. I hope nobody thinks Matthew’s character didn’t have a single lucid moment. It remains to discuss what sort of a monetary system we do need.

Monetary Systems in General

Good old Dave Kimble has offered to help me write the following in plain English, which I am trying to learn. It deals with community currency because of the perceived benefits of decentralization. What is needed now is a central (national) currency; but, the principal ideas in the following apply just as well if only they can be understood:

On Designing a Community Currency (January, 2007)

Thomas L Wayburn, PhD

This is a draft - nay, a draft of a draft. - Herman Melville, Moby Dick

To walk in money through the night crowd, protected by money, lulled by money, dulled by money, the crowd itself a money, the breath money, no least single object anywhere that is not money, money, money everywhere and still not enough, and then no money, or a little money or less money or more money, but money, always money, and if you have money or you don’t have money it is the money that counts and money makes money, but what makes money make money? - Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

Economic Value


One of the principal reasons for replacing the current national monetary system is that money is created by banks when they lend more than the sum total of the money deposited with them. This money cannot be repaid unless the economy grows, that is, the total cash value of sales and purchases is greater this year than it was last year regardless of the quantity of real wealth such as food, clothing, housing, energy represented by each unit of currency. The total amount of currency must increase continuously; and, each unit of currency can be divorced completely from physical wealth. We wish to replace this currency, which represents only a number in a computer somewhere and not anything tangible with a currency based upon measurable quantities of real physical wealth.

If there were one physical quantity, such as emergy (with an M), that could be used to measure all physical wealth - in particular, all wealth necessary to sustain human life on this planet - we would do well to base our new currency upon it. We cannot do this at the present time for two reasons: (i) the emergy values of water, land, and human labor have not been established nor is there any on-going effort to establish them or even to determine how they should be established and (ii) temporarily the government will need to issue un-backed scrip with which to pay the workers to do the necessary work to transform the United States to sustainability. The workers can use the scrip to purchase goods and services that formerly were paid for with United States dollars (USDs). Hopefully, in time, the economy will be a net producer of real wealth and the new fiat currency will be redeemed with currency described below. Clearly, among the necessary jobs will be the production of sufficient energy, food, and health care to sustain citizens who obey the new sustainability laws.

I need to explain “sustainability laws” and to show that enough workers will be available for essential occupations after the government furloughs workers who serve the market currently but produce nothing that we actually need to live. In “Energy in a Natural Economy”, I analyzed the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from one of the last years in which the United States produced almost everything it consumed. We should now try to establish a small list of fundamental economic entities in terms of which all economic goods and services can be evaluated.

Currently, provided we use Howard Odum’s concept of emergy to as great an extent as currently possible, we can evaluate every economic good or service in terms of land, water, energy, and time. Therefore, we could design a new rational monetary system with four types of currency:

(1) Emergy certificates that would pay for almost all economic goods and services in terms of energy properly weighted by transformities to account for the cost of conversion to a useful form

(2) Water certificates to pay for fresh water as it is found in Nature - as opposed to desalinated sea water

(3) Land certificates to pay a rent for all land use based upon ecological characteristics to be described later. (Clearly, not all land has equal value.)

(4) Certificates to pay for the time spent by workers at essential jobs. The government may not issue these any faster than they are needed to pay workers; so, they are not fiat currency in the sense that the USD is.

The government needs to establish the conversion factors so that workers can pay for economic goods.

Special Characteristics Needed to Avoid Economic Collapse

Our crisis has a physical component and an imaginary component. The physical component comes from limitations in the quantities of land, water, consumable energy, and the environment itself. The ecological footprint of the human race exceeds the carrying capacity of Earth. The imaginary component is instability in the monetary system caused by excessive debt and excessive monetary inequality. To ameliorate the physical crisis we must eliminate the imaginary one. I do not mean that indebtedness, poverty, and wealth are imaginary; but, rather, that we can eliminate all three with the application of our imaginations without affecting the physical universe. Stabilizing our population and reducing our ecological footprint will ultimately have a desirable effect upon the universe.

Regardless of what the people want, the owners of the country want to retain their positions of power, privilege, and wealth. Naturally, they despise the idea of government control of the economy and the means of production; however, when a crisis arises that they cannot handle, they readily accede to crisis socialism to save them. During World War II, without adopting socialism completely, they allowed rationing, wage and price control, and management of vital industries by government employees even if they were paid only one dollar per year.

To respond appropriately to resource and environmental limits, we need to establish crisis socialism. However, to eliminate debt, we need to repudiate the US dollar; and, to eliminate inequality, we need to pay everyone the same even if no work can be found for them to replace the inessential work from which they were furloughed to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and our ecological footprint. After all, the requirement that every citizen does useful work to get paid and the requirement that the pay should be commensurate with the value of the work are completely imaginary. The idea that everyone should be allowed to get as much money as he can is completely wrong.

More on Land, Energy, and Time


We may assume, then, that every economic actor* in a community has been assigned a portion of contiguous land of equal value excluding the most desirable locations of all - normally coast lines, river banks, the best scenic outlooks, and the best locations for intensive energy collection, which will be retained by the community as part of the commons. In many cases, this common land will be made available to economic enterprises owned in equal shares by their own workers according to the maxim that every worker should own his own tools - or, as stated in the ancient Hebrew rabbinical writings, a carpenter without tools is not a carpenter. No person may control land upon which he does not live or labor. The land upon which men and women labor is held in common by all of the workers who labor upon that simply-connected (not disjoint) piece of land.

* Dependent children are not economic actors.


Energy* is the most important fundamental economic quantity. It should be the basis of every currency. It is the life’s blood of every economy. Howard T. Odum is famous for the following words:

Real wealth is food, fuel, water, wood for houses, fiber for clothes, raw minerals, electricity, information, …

· A country is wealthy that has more of this real stuff used per person.

· Money is only paid to people and is not proportional to real wealth.

· Prices and costs are inverse to real wealth.

· When resources are abundant, standard of living is high, but prices low.

· When resources are scarce, prices are high, more money goes to bring resources, a few people get rich, but the net contribution to prosperity is small.

· Real wealth is mostly the work of nature and has to be evaluated with a scientific ... measure, emergy.

Therefore, to place a value on an economic good or service, the first quantity to be assigned is the emergy (with an M) or embodied energy. I have completely reworked Odum's great concept.**

* In this essay, and in the rest of my writing, the term energy refers always to either Gibbs availability or Helmholtz availability depending upon context. Please see ... efinitions This is not a frivolous personal definition. To go about referring to energy consumption is barbarous and technically wrong!

** See


The only time a person has is the time of his life. Clearly, every person’s life is equally valuable to himself. Until a thousand years have passed after an individual has died, there is no valid way to evaluate his contribution to the community. Therefore, every person’s time must be assigned the same value, namely, one hour per hour since time is fundamental and cannot be evaluated in terms of anything else, least of all money.

But, it is said, “Some people spend many years in engineering school, medical school, apprenticed to a tailor, etc. preparing to render useful services to the community. Clearly, the time of such people’s life when they render such services to the community must be compensated at a higher rate than the time of unskilled laborers with no preparation.” This can be finessed in the following way: Time spent learning a skill must be compensated at the same rate as it will be compensated when they are rendering service to the community. Thus, if a person spends 1000 hours* in classrooms being instructed in the great art of engineering with an average of nine other people, he will have earned 900 hours that he can use to support himself and others until he is able to contribute time practicing engineering. (Each student contributes 100 hours to the time spent by the professor.) In addition, he will spend about 2000 hours studying alone. This too represents earned time with which he can buy books each of which carries a price tag compounded of the land, water, energy, and time that went into its construction by the author and the book binder to name only two.

* The number 1000 is chosen for convenience in writing this essay not as a reflection of the actual time needed to learn engineering.
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby stanr » Sat Nov 28, 2015 3:39 am

I'd recommend many people, but I will start with one. I think Elinor Ostrom is vital to tying CasP to other work in the social sciences. In my view her work on institutions and systems is the closest thing to a unifying framework the social sciences have right now. I mean, it's really early, but you can see where a guidewire could be launched between it and things like CasP.

How do people organize to manage a common-pool resource (e.g. irrigation network)? It's a really tough question. You can guess the answer: it depends. Her body of work is huge, and it's a small fraction of the good stuff in that area. Her seminal work, which is the most readable, is Governing the Commons, but there's been a lot since then.

Good introduction to Elinor Ostrom's body of work, given chronologically and autobiographically: ... 808.123259

If you want to go deep there are frameworks: IAD, SES, and one (created since she passed away) called NIASES, which is a hybrid of the others. Indiana U also has a database of commons-related material, a lot of qualitative work on common pool resources and regimes/institutions: e.g. ... pe=subject
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby stanr » Fri Dec 04, 2015 10:39 pm

Another in what may be a series of social science work worth knowing about, and related to CasP. This is an introduction to a special section of Current Anthropology. The whole issue/section is worth reading, but I'll preview just the abstract of the intro here.

The Emergence and Persistence of Inequality in Premodern Societies
by Samuel Bowles, Eric Alden Smith, and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder

In this special section we propose an interpretation of the emergence and persistence of wealth
inequality in premodern populations along with ethnographic and quantitative evidence exploring
this hypothesis. The long-term trajectory of inequality in premodern societies, we suggest, is based
on the differing importance of three classes of wealth—material, embodied, and relational—together with differences in the transmission of these types of wealth across generations. Subsequent essays in this forum use data on individual and household wealth from 21 populations to evaluate this and related propositions concerning the interaction of wealth class, transmission rates, production systems (foraging, horticultural, pastoral, and agricultural), and inequality. Here we motivate our interpretation by applying our ideas to the Holocene transition from more egalitarian to more stratified societies, introduce key concepts that are developed in the subsequent essays, and comment on some
of the limitations of our study.

Ungated PDFs of the entire article: ... 7042106344
from Current Anthropology Volume 51, Number 1, February 2010
Special Section: Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and Inequality in Premodern Societies

Another excerpt from the article above, talking about essays in the same issue:
The next four essays address the intergenerational trans-
mission of wealth and wealth inequality in, respectively,
hunter-gatherer, horticultural, pastoral, and agricultural pop-
ulations, each essay beginning with an introduction to general
features of the production system. Each then examines the
study populations and field sites and the extent to which these
are representative of the production system, as well as meth-
ods used for collecting wealth data in each population. Each
essay presents the estimates of the relative importance of ma-
terial, embodied, and relational wealth for success or well-
being in that particular production system (a), and then the
estimates of the extent of intergenerational transmission (b)
and possible transmission mechanisms for each wealth type.
A brief concluding essay synthesizes the empirical results,
evaluating the linkages between production systems, inter-
generational transmission of the most important kinds of
wealth, and the levels of inequality.
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Re: Recommend some good political economy

Postby stanr » Wed Dec 09, 2015 10:24 pm

From ... ctives.pdf

I distinctly remember an occasion when the professor - a future Nobel Prize winner - was presenting a formal model of consumer behavior. A student remarked, “But that’s not how people behave.” The professor replied simply, “You’re right,” and without another word, turned back to the blackboard and continued his presentation of the model. We all got the idea.

I had to quote that one.


First, the table of contents tells the story (ABM is agent-based modeling):
2. ABM Can Address Many Problems Seen in Many Disciplines
3. ABM Facilitates Interdisciplinary Collaboration
4. ABM Provides a Useful Multidisciplinary Tool When the Math is Intractable
5. ABM Can Reveal Unity Across Disciplines
6. ABM Can be a Hard Sell
7. Convergence Within the ABM Community Can Enhance the Interdisciplinary Value
of ABM

Second, the paper has a lot of narrative in it, in an easy style. I found it a fun read. I've noticed my writing style has gotten worse and worse the more research I read--you are what you eat! And egad, I read a lot of it. When I see an easier style that's still compelling and concise, a bell dings in my brain. I need to be closer to this plain, clear language than the obscurant, polysyllabic amorphosities of academese. Examples like this help me as I evolve my writing style.

Third, if the CasP view(s) are useful, they will need to increasingly span diverse methods. Qualitative + quantitative? Ok, what happens when we push that? What soars, what crashes, what dissolves, when we try to translate CasP to multiple methods, and grapple with facts. Elinor Ostrom's work, posted earlier, is a good example of doing this. From the larger view of the social sciences, I think ABM is an essential method, and a bridge, as suggested by Axelrod. It's good to know the tool exists, even if it's quite a while before any CasP gets ABMed.

I'd also recommend glancing at Axelrod's selected papers on his site (he's officially a political scientist):

I hope my sorta-periodic updates of this thread with cross-discipline sprinkles is useful.
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