The myth of the German jobs miracle


Matthew C Klein in the FT's Alphaville:

Christian Odendahl is one of the finest analysts of the German economy writing in English. So it’s worth your time to closely read his review of the country’s labour market reforms of the early 2000s, sometimes called “Agenda 2010” or the “Hartz Reforms”.

There’s lots to digest, from his finding that German real interest rates were significantly higher in 1999-2007 than in the other large Western economies to his observation that the impact of the reforms is often overstated because they happened to coincide with the end of Germany’s decade-long construction bust.

The most useful insight for policymakers elsewhere in the euro area is that Germany’s reforms in 2003-2005 can’t explain most of the interesting things that have happened in the German economy during its membership of the single currency. The features that prevented mass layoffs in 2008 were much older, for example.

But we want to highlight something else in Odendahl’s paper: his implication that Germany’s jobs growth is more myth than miracle.

Yes, the number of Germans listed as having a job has grown by about 15 per cent since the lows in the mid-1990s. But the total number of hours worked is less than 2 per cent higher over the same period and still significantly lower than in the early 1990s:

As Odendahl notes, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if an employment boom happened to coincide with a widespread desire to spend less time on the job.

More here.

Thursday Poem

The One-Piece Takeaway
Like so much that is necessary, the one-piece
takeaway is impossible. Only the half-divine,
the smooth-backswinged ones, those of the balanced
follow-through who keep their heads down,
always, almost, can do it. Yet, half-mortal, they
too can hit the golf ball out of bounds.
Their heavenly parents play no games. Why? each
shot a hole-in-one. But they watch us hackers,
curious, wondering that hardly a shot goes where we
plan – Oedipus wanting to heal the city, Odysseus
wanting to go home. They see our rare par or
rarer bird when the ball bounces off sprinkler head
towards the pin, and wonder why it is all so
hard for us, wonder at our strange joy.

by Nils Peterson
from Aethlon

Hunting for Morels, Finding a Mess

Christopher Schaberg in Guernica:

MushI'm walking through an aspen grove next to a steep ridge, looking up at the mossy bases of big ash trees. They have a shaggy, mottled look—evidence of the emerald ash borer beetles that have ravaged them over the past decade. Morel mushrooms grow near these trees, and they seem sparser with each year that passes, as dead ashes crisscross the forest floors. The white morels (which tend to look more gray or even yellow, depending on where you find them) are often thought to appear toward the end of the season; first, the elusive black morels appear. The locals usually say it’s cyclical, or that the mushrooms will adjust and find another sort of tree to live with. But everyone’s noticed a dearth of black morels this year. When I was young, I remember valleys carpeted with black morels. They were often petite, but always intricately sculptural and beautiful, gnomic and nestled between Jack in the Pulpit and trillium flowers. This year I found only five in a gravely patch that I recalled only moments before stumbling upon it, deep in the woods. Finding morels often works like this for me: I head out of the house with a vague sense of direction, but usually I don’t clue in to the exact spot I’m headed to until just before I’m on top of it. Then there is a flash of deep recollection or attunement, and I look down and there they are.

It’s early June as I write this; the season is effectively over. There are still a few morels to be found, but by this point they will most likely be slug-nibbled and sun burned, way past their prime. While I heard a few rumors about big hauls of morels discovered in swampy areas, most people I talked to were left flummoxed by this year’s crop. People often tell stories about how these mushrooms are mysterious. Morels will hide and then show up almost whimsically in abundance, right before your eyes. Case in point: a couple of weeks ago I went on a two-hour walk looking for morels, ranging over some fairly remote areas of the national lakeshore that should have been bursting with mushrooms. But I didn’t find a single one. The following morning, I walked out of my front door to see a plump, fresh white morel popping out from between two rocks a foot away from the house, as if winking at me. As Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes in The Mushroom at the End of the World, “When gathering mushrooms, one is not enough; finding the first encourages me to find more.” Even after a fruitless hunt the day before, I am suddenly motivated to try again.

It’s especially fun to teach kids to hunt for morels. Children are literally closer to the ground, and once they learn to spot morels they can be astonishingly adept at picking them out of the dizzying patterns of leaves and ground cover. This year’s black morel scarcity invariably comes up when I’m talking to locals about how many they’ve found so far. (But never where. Morel hunters are notoriously cagey about their secret spots). One thing that hasn’t is the C word—or, rather, the CC words: climate change. No one has ventured that climate change might have something to do with the disappearance of the black morels. And, to be clear, I’m not at all sure that myself. Still, it is surprising that I haven’t heard the phrase uttered by the people I’ve talked to, who are saddened by the low turnout in what, by most accounts, was supposed to be a good spring for morels (cool, plenty of ground moisture, etc.).

More here.

In retrospect: Das Kapital

Gareth Stedman Jones:

KarlBy the mid-nineteenth century across Europe, the scientific and technological shifts behind the Industrial Revolution were extracting a heavy social and political price. Reports surfaced of the poverty and ill-health of town-dwellers, overcrowding, child labour and oppressive factory conditions. This 'social question' prompted widespread anxiety. Meanwhile, censorship, repression, the continued rule of aristocracies and the exclusion of the working classes from suffrage ignited mounting political discontent. Observing, analysing and synthesizing these changes was the Rhineland economist Karl Marx (1818–83). He codified concepts of labour, trade and the global market to explosive effect in Das Kapital, the first volume of which was published 150 years ago. The book's impact on economics, politics and current affairs has been formidable, and aspects of Marx's thinking have permeated areas of scientific research as disparate as robotics and evolutionary theory. Industrial revolutions, as Marx realized, relegate workers to the status of machine minders, and open the way to production that does not depend on human labour.

How to explain the infusion of Das Kapital's concepts into so many fields? Friedrich Engels, Marx's long-term collaborator and author of the groundbreaking 1845 The Condition of the Working Class in England, compared Das Kapital to the theory of evolution by natural selection, published eight years before. He wrote: “just as [Charles] Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history”. What is extraordinary about Das Kapital is that it offers a still-unrivalled picture of the dynamism of capitalism and its transformation of societies on a global scale. It firmly embedded concepts such as commodity and capital in the lexicon. And it highlights some of the vulnerabilities of capitalism, including its unsettling disruption of states and political systems. The election of Donald Trump, the vote for Brexit and the rise of populism in Europe and elsewhere can all be understood as indirect effects of shifts in the global division of labour — the relocation of key aspects of modern production away from Europe and the United States. That has been brought about by changes in what Marx identified as the capitalist enterprise's incessant drive to expansion.

More here.

Charles McGee’s Vibrant Art and the Beauty of Detroit

Morgan Meis in The New Yorker:

Recently, I spent an afternoon with the artist Charles McGee, at his home in Rosedale Park, a neighborhood in northwest Detroit. I was trying to understand the thinking behind his new mural downtown, titled “Unity,” which is a hundred and eighteen feet high and fifty feet wide, and which, as of May 31st, can be found on the side of a thirteen-story building at 28 West Grand River Avenue.

McGee showed me a couple of different drawings and mockups of the mural, which is entirely black-and-white. The composition is a complicated interweaving of dots and zigzags, lines, blocks of solid black, and indeterminate organic shapes. There are also representational elements, but it takes a couple of minutes of looking to pick them out. A snake slithers down the top-right section of the design. A small bird nestles beneath curly shapes. What had seemed to be a random collection of polka dots turns out, on closer inspection, to be, possibly, the hindquarters of a leopard.

Meis-Charles-McGee-Unity_02“Is this primarily an abstract work?” I asked McGee.

“No,” he said.

“You see it as representational, then?”


“A mix?”

“Not exactly.”

“Is this work about Detroit somehow?”

“Yes and no.”

“Are these designs coming from African art?”


“Do you see yourself as a black artist?”


“A Detroit artist?”


“An American artist?”


More here.

The Illuminating Geometry of Viruses

Jordana Cepelewicz in Quanta:

ScreenHunter_2770 Jul. 26 19.08More than a quarter billion people today are infected with the hepatitis B virus (HBV), the World Health Organization estimates, and more than 850,000 of them die every year as a result. Although an effective and inexpensive vaccine can prevent infections, the virus, a major culprit in liver disease, is still easily passed from infected mothers to their newborns at birth, and the medical community remains strongly interested in finding better ways to combat HBV and its chronic effects. It was therefore notable last month when Reidun Twarock, a mathematician at the University of York in England, together with Peter Stockley, a professor of biological chemistry at the University of Leeds, and their respective colleagues, published their insights into how HBV assembles itself. That knowledge, they hoped, might eventually be turned against the virus.

Their accomplishment has gained further attention because only this past February the teams also announced a similar discovery about the self-assembly of a virus related to the common cold. In fact, in recent years, Twarock, Stockley and other mathematicians have helped reveal the assembly secrets of a variety of viruses, even though that problem had seemed forbiddingly difficult not long before.

More here.

The Meaning of India’s ‘Beef Lynchings’

Supriya Nair in The Atlantic:

Lead_960One day in June, towards the end of Ramadan, two young Muslim brothers on a visit to Delhi to buy new clothes for Eid boarded a train to return home, three hours away. Soon, they became embroiled in a disagreement over seating with fellow passengers, which escalated into an argument over their religion. The other passengers taunted the boys, calling them “beef-eaters,” and pulling at their beards, one of the brothers later said. Eventually, the knives came out. By the time the train had passed the boys’ village, the assault was underway. Fifteen-year-old Junaid Khan was thrown out of the carriage one station past the boys’ stop; he had been stabbed multiple times, and was later declared dead at Civil Hospital in Palwal.

Within days, thousands were flooding the streets of India’s cities in protests sparked by Junaid’s murder, led by Indians aghast at an ever-lengthening list of violent crimes committed by Hindu mobs. Lynching is an old crime here, often committed against those of so-called lower castes and marginalized tribes, in order to reinforce brutal social hierarchies. But dozens of news reports over the last two years indicate a dramatic rise in a specific kind of mob murder: the so-called “beef lynchings” of Muslims.

Of all the social fault lines caused by cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding food in India, none cut deeper than beef and beef-eating.

More here.


Jeremy Scahill in The Intercept:

ScreenHunter_2769 Jul. 26 18.55EVEN AS PRESIDENT DONALD Trump faces ever-intensifying investigations into the alleged connections between his top aides and family members and powerful Russian figures, he serves as commander in chief over a U.S. military that is killing an astonishing and growing number of civilians. Under Trump, the U.S. is re-escalating its war in Afghanistan, expanding its operations in Iraq and Syria, conducting covert raids in Somalia and Yemen, and openly facilitating the Saudi’s genocidal military destruction of Yemen.

Meanwhile, China has quietly and rapidly expanded its influence without deploying its military on foreign soil.

A new book by the famed historian Alfred McCoy predicts that China is set to surpass the influence of the U.S. globally, both militarily and economically, by the year 2030. At that point, McCoy asserts the United States empire as we know it will be no more. He sees the Trump presidency as one of the clearest byproducts of the erosion of U.S. global dominance, but not its root cause. At the same time, he also believes Trump may accelerate the empire’s decline.

McCoy argues that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the beginning of the end. McCoy is not some chicken little. He is a serious academic. And he has guts.

More here.

The G20’s Misguided Globalism


Dani Rodrik in Project Syndicate:

The G20 has its origins in two ideas, one relevant and important, the other false and distracting. The relevant and important idea is that developing and emerging market economies such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and China have become too significant to be excluded from discussions about global governance. While the G7 has not been replaced – its last summit was held in May in Sicily – G20 meetings are an occasion to expand and broaden the dialogue.

The G20 was created in 1999, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Developed countries initially treated it as an outreach forum, where they would help developing economies raise financial and monetary management to the developed world’s standards. Over time, developing countries found their own voice and have played a larger role in crafting the group’s agenda. In any case, the 2008 global financial crisis emanating from the United States, and the subsequent eurozone debacle, made a mockery of the idea that developed countries had much useful knowledge to impart on these matters.

The second, less useful idea underpinning the G20 is that solving the pressing problems of the world economy requires ever more intense cooperation and coordination at the global level. The analogy frequently invoked is that the world economy is a “global commons”: either all countries do their share to contribute to its upkeep, or they will all suffer the consequences.

More here.

Monopoly was invented to demonstrate the evils of capitalism


Kate Raworth in Aeon:

'Buy land – they aren’t making it any more,’ quipped Mark Twain. It’s a maxim that would certainly serve you well in a game of Monopoly, the bestselling board game that has taught generations of children to buy up property, stack it with hotels, and charge fellow players sky-high rents for the privilege of accidentally landing there.

The game’s little-known inventor, Elizabeth Magie, would no doubt have made herself go directly to jail if she’d lived to know just how influential today’s twisted version of her game has turned out to be. Why? Because it encourages its players to celebrate exactly the opposite values to those she intended to champion.

Born in 1866, Magie was an outspoken rebel against the norms and politics of her times. She was unmarried into her 40s, independent and proud of it, and made her point with a publicity stunt. Taking out a newspaper advertisement, she offered herself as a ‘young woman American slave’ for sale to the highest bidder. Her aim, she told shocked readers, was to highlight the subordinate position of women in society. ‘We are not machines,’ she said. ‘Girls have minds, desires, hopes and ambition.’

In addition to confronting gender politics, Magie decided to take on the capitalist system of property ownership – this time not through a publicity stunt but in the form of a board game. The inspiration began with a book that her father, the anti-monopolist politician James Magie, had handed to her. In the pages of Henry George’s classic, Progress and Poverty (1879), she encountered his conviction that ‘the equal right of all men to use the land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air – it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence’.

More here.

Global Extreme Poverty

Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina over at Our World in Data:

The most important conclusion from the evidence presented in this entry is that extreme poverty, as measured by consumption, has been going down around the world in the last two centuries. But why should we care? Is it not the case that poor people might have less consumption but enjoy their lives just as much—or even more—than people with much higher consumption levels?

One way to find out is to simply ask. Subjective views are an important way of measuring welfare.

This is what the Gallup Organization did. The Gallup World Poll asked people around the world what they thought about their standard of living—not only about their income. The following chart compares the answers of people in different countries with the average income in those countries. It shows that, broadly speaking, people living in poorer countries tend to be less satisfied with their living standards.

Dissatisfaction with standard of living vs GDP per capita

This suggests that economic prosperity is not a vain, unimportant goal but rather a means for a better life. The correlation between rising incomes and higher self-reported life satisfaction is shown in our entry on happiness.

This is more than a technical point about how to measure welfare. It is an assertion that matters for how we understand and interpret development.

First, the smooth relationship between income and subjective well-being highlights the difficulties that arise from using a fixed threshold above which people are abruptly considered to be non-poor. In reality, subjective well-being does not suddenly improve above any given poverty line. This makes using a fixed poverty line to define destitution as a binary ‘yes/no’ problematic. Therefore, while the International Poverty Line is useful for understanding the changes in living conditions of the very poorest of the world, we must also take into account higher poverty lines reflecting the fact that living conditions at higher thresholds can still be destitute.

And second, the fact that people with very low incomes tend to be dissatisfied with their living standards shows that it would be incorrect to take a romantic view on what ‘life in poverty’ is like. As the data shows, there is just no empirical evidence that would suggest that living with very low consumption levels is romantic.

More here.

Chocolate Can Protect Our Brains

Sheherzad Preisler in OliveOilTimes:

ImagesA research team based at Italy’s University of L’Aquila have published a new study that says cocoa beans contain high concentrations of flavanols, which are naturally-occurring compounds that can protect our brains. The team, whose findings were published in Frontiers in Nutrition, reviewed current scientific literature in the hopes of finding out if the sustained concentrations of cocoa flavanols found in regular chocolate-eaters had any effect on the brain. What the team found was a breadth of trials in which participants that regularly consumed chocolate processed visual information better and had improved “working memories.” Furthermore, women who consumed cocoa after a sleepless night saw a reversal of negative side effects that come from sleep deprivation, such as compromised task performance. This could be great for those who work particularly stressful jobs that compromise one’s sleep as well as those with recurring sleep issues.

Diets such as the Mediterranean diet encourage the consumption of chocolate in moderation, and this study further supports such suggestions. However, the results should be taken with a grain of salt: the positive effects from cocoa flavanols differed based on the variety of the mental tests. For young adults who were in good health, they needed a very intense cognition test to expose cocoa’s immediate benefits. Most research on this subject to date generally involves elderly populations who have consumed cocoa flavanols from anywhere between five days and three months. For this population, daily consumption of cocoa flavanols had the most positive profound effect on their cognition, improving their verbal fluency, processing speed, and attention span. The benefits were most noticeable in subjects whose cognitive abilities had minor damage or whose memories had previously begun to decline.

More here.

Two people drive drunk at night: one kills a pedestrian, one doesn’t. Does the unlucky killer deserve more blame or not?

Robert J Hartman in Aeon:

ScreenHunter_2767 Jul. 25 23.15There is a contradiction in our ordinary ideas about moral responsibility. Let’s explore it by considering two examples. Killer, our first character, is at a party and drives home drunk. At a certain point in her journey, she swerves, hits the curb, and kills a pedestrian who was on the curb. Merely Reckless, our second character, is in every way exactly like Killer but, when she swerves and hits a curb, she kills no one. There wasn’t a pedestrian on the curb for her to kill. The difference between Killer and Merely Reckless is a matter of luck.

Does Killer deserve more blame – that is, resentment and indignation – than Merely Reckless? Or, do Killer and Merely Reckless deserve the same degree of blame? We feel a pull to answer ‘yes’ to both questions. Let’s consider why.

On the one hand, we believe that Killer deserves more blame than Merely Reckless, because it’s only Killer who causes the death of a pedestrian. Plausibly, a person can deserve extra blame for a bad result of her action that she reasonably could have been expected to foresee, and causing the death of a pedestrian by driving drunk is that kind of bad consequence. So, even though they deserve an equal degree of blame for their callous and reckless driving, Killer deserves more blame overall, because only Killer’s foreseeable moral risk turns out badly.

On the other hand, we believe that Killer and Merely Reckless must deserve the same degree of blame, because luck is the only difference between them, and luck, most of us think, cannot affect the praise and blame a person deserves. It would be unfair for Killer to deserve more blame due merely to what happened to her, because moral judgment is about a person and not what happens to her. So, they must deserve the same degree of blame.

In summary, our commonsense ideas about moral responsibility imply the contradiction that Killer and Merely Reckless do and do not deserve the same amount of resentment and indignation. More generally, our commonsense ideas about moral responsibility have the paradoxical implication that luck in results can and cannot affect how much praise and blame a person deserves.

Nevertheless, the vexation runs deeper. Luck clearly affects the results of actions but, less obviously, as I’ll demonstrate, luck can also affect actions themselves.

More here.

10,000 Hours With Claude Shannon: How A Genius Thinks, Works, and Lives

Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni in The Mission:

1-gRoSWX311voQrBgwa9iuCAFor the last five years, we lived with one of the most brilliant people on the planet.

Sort of.

See, we just published the biography of Dr. Claude Shannon. He’s the most important genius you’ve never heard of, a man whose intellect was on par with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

We spent five years with him. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, during that period, we spent more time with the deceased Claude Shannon than we have with many of our living friends. He became something like the roommate in the spare bedroom of our minds, the guy who was always hanging around and occupying our head space.

Yes, we were the ones telling his story, but in telling it, he affected us, too. Geniuses have a unique way of engaging with the world, and if you spend enough time examining their habits, you discover the behaviors behind their brilliance. Whether or not we intended it to, understanding Claude Shannon’s life gave us lessons on how to better live our own.

That’s what follows in this essay. It’s the good stuff our roommate left behind.

More here.

‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism


A.M. Gittlitz in the NYT:

Gorky was a fan of the Cosmism of Nikolai Fyodorov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a scientific and mystical philosophy proposing space exploration and human immortality. When Lenin died four years after meeting with Wells, the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s line “Lenin Lived, Lenin Lives, Lenin Will Live Forever!” became not only a state slogan, but also a scientific goal. These Biocosmist-Immortalists, as they were known, believed that socialist scientists, freed from the constraints of the capitalist profit motive, would discover how to abolish death and bring back their comrades. Lenin’s corpse remains preserved for the occasion.

Bogdanov died in the course of his blood-sharing experiments, and other futurist dreams were sidelined by the industrial and militarist priorities that led up to World War II. In the postwar period, however, scientists inspired by Cosmism launched Sputnik. The satellite’s faint blinking in the night sky signaled an era of immense human potential to escape all limitations natural and political, with the equal probability of destroying everything in a matter of hours.

Feeding on this tension, science fiction and futurism entered their “golden age” by the 1950s and ’60s, both predicting the bright future that would replace the Cold War. Technological advances would automate society; the necessity of work would fade away. Industrial wealth would be distributed as a universal basic income, and an age of leisure and vitality would follow. Humans would continue to voyage into space, creating off-Earth colonies and perhaps making new, extraterrestrial friends in the process. In a rare 1966 collaboration across the Iron Curtain, the astronomer Carl Sagan co-wrote “Intelligent Life in the Universe” with Iosif Shklovosky. This work of astrobiological optimism proposed that humans attempt to contact their galactic neighbors.

More here.

criticizing rorty’s critics

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailMaría Pía Lara at the LARB:

Why then was Rorty ever considered a relativist? Here is one answer: Throughout his career, Rorty was against prescriptions, against thinking that he could provide us with universal foundations or discoveries. Instead, he sought to recover the successes of labor unions and other leftist organizations. This included younger leftists, who engaged in social disobedience, after seeing anticommunism being used as an excuse to destroy innocent people in southeast Asia. Rorty maintained that the killing of civilians and soldiers in Vietnam was morally indefensible and that the war had ended up degrading the morals of the United States. Moreover, he claimed, that the political effectiveness of the antiwar movements would give hope to future generations.

Rorty often cited the contributions of pragmatists like John Dewey or William James, whose essays he compared to Walt Whitman’s poetry, because they were aware that it is in the making of something — a movement, a concept, a turn of a phrase to describe our world — rather than in finding “truths,” that we articulate social and political changes for the better. He observed that both writers believed that “democracy” and “the project of America” was “a political construction” and could be taken as “convertible,” that is, “equivalent” terms.

more here.

What does Jane Austen mean to you?

P7_BraggGeoff Dyer and many others at the TLS:

We did Emma for A Level, so it was one of the first serious novels I ever read. In a sense, then, Jane Austen is literature to me. She was not just one of the first novelists I read but also the oldest, i.e. earliest. You can start further back, of course, but romping through Tom Jones feels like a bit of a waste of olde time in the way that Persuasion never does. I associate reading Austen with a consciousness of the gap between my limited life experience – swilling beer, basically – and the expanded grasp of the psychological subtleties and nuances of situations and relationships that her books gradually revealed. But I’m conscious also of a different kind of gap: that between the riches afforded by the novels and the tedium of the criticism served up alongside them. Macmillan Casebooks – anthologies of critical essays – were the default educational tools even though most of the pieces in the one on Emma are complete dross. The process whereby “doing English” morphed into “doing criticism” began with Austen and continued all the way through university. Was this a purposeful deterrent? George Steiner is right: the best critical essay on Jane Austen is Middlemarch.

Whereas my head is full of Shakespeare, only a few lines from Austen have stayed with me – the very ones, predictably, that had us smirking at school: “Anne had always found such a style of intercourse highly imprudent” (Persuasion), or Mr Elton “making violent love” to Emma in a carriage.

more here.