Highlights, and Just the Highlights: for those who only want to read the things that I have written that I believe are especially memorable...
Economics 24-1: The Financial Crisis and the Little Depression of 2007-2012: Fall 2011 U.C. Berkeley Freshman Seminar:/h3>
What Is Happening Across the Wide Missouri?: From DeKalb County Illinois south to St. Louis and over to Wichita, my ancestors moved to the Mississippi-Missouri Valley in the nineteenth century to build their civilization.
What has happened to the civilization that they--Judge James DeLong, Florence Richardson, Roland Usher, Grizzela Parkinson, an all the rest--built here?
BETA Equitablog Soft Launch:
The conversation--even the high-technocratic conversation--spends much-too-much time chasing rabbits flushed by the Pete Peterson Foundation (on the necessity for entitlement cuts), the Wall Street Journal editorial page (on the overwhelming need for low taxes on the rich), the John M. Olin Foundation (on how the New Deal erred in thinking that positive liberty is a thing), and so forth.
This is not the conversation our public sphere should be having.
So let us drive the conversation to what it should be about--equitable growth.
So: Suggestions as to what to cover? Recommendations as to how to cover it? Volunteers to cover it?
Noted: Things worth noting. Unfortunately, these are also things not commented upon. Ars longa, vita brevis, you know...
Econ 2: Spring 2014: Brad DeLong's One-Semester Go-Faster Do-More Principles of Economics Course:
Over at Equitable Growth'sEquitablog I am starting a hopefully-weekly feature I am going to call: "The Honest Broker". The point of it is to, once a week, give people a 3000-or-so-word introduction and assessment that will bring them up to speed on some particular issue of importance to equitable growth.
This will be in large part the point of the Equitablog weblogging exercise: we want to play our position, and help focus the attention of the public sphere on the issues that are truly important, rather than joining the webloggy equivalent of the 20 six-year-olds in a mass around the soccer ball who have forgotten which goal is there's and are kicking randomly.
And putting out, once a week or so, an introduction-and-assessment of an issue area seems a good way to do that.
In a year we will have 52 slots. That should be enough to cover great deal of the issues relevant to equitable growth--to the seamless web of advancing material well-being, in its components of accumulation and investment (of factors, ideas, and institutions), production (providing incentives to use accumulated and invested resources to produce stuff, producing stuff in the right proportions, and ensuring demand is there to get the produced stuff bought), distribution (plus its feedbacks onto production and accumulation and investment), and implementation.
Plus dialogue: this will work only if we get the dialogue going...
John Kennedy delivered his inaugural address on Friday, 20 January 1961. For those who don’t remember those times, the Cold War was pretty darned cold right then…. Two days after Kennedy asked not, just after midnight on 23 January 1961, a B-52 carrying two thermonuclear devices broke up over North Carolina. We now learn that one of the bombs came close to exploding…. Dr. Ralph Lapp told the story in his book, Kill and Overkill: The Strategy of Annihilation in 1962…. What is new is this: the story has been confirmed. Thanks to the automatic declassification schedule, what was Secret then is unclassified fifty years on. And due to a Freedom of Information Act request, someone has found other documents relating to this event. The Guardian has the original document: It’s commentary by Parker Jones, the gent who was responsible for the mechanical safety of US nuclear bombs.
The twentieth century saw the material wealth of humankind explode beyond all previous imagining: we—at least those of us who belong to the upper middle class and live in the industrial core of the world economy—are now far richer than the writers of previous centuries’ utopias could imagine. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw, for the first time, productive capability outran population growth and natural resource scarcity. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the average inhabitant of a leading economies—a Briton, a Belgian, a Dutchman, an American, a Canadian, or an Australian—had perhaps twice the material wealth and standard of living of the typical inhabitant of a pre-industrial economy. The standards of living of the bulk of the population underwent a substantial, sustained, and unreversed rise in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for perhaps the first time in a thousand, if not in seven thousand years.
The twentieth century’s tyrannies were more brutal and more barbaric than those of any previous age. And—astonishingly—they had their origins in economic discontents and economic ideologies. People killed each other in large numbers over questions of how the economy should be organized, which had not been a major source of massacre in previous centuries.
Twentieth-Century governments and their soldiers have killed perhaps forty million people in war: either soldiers (most of them unlucky enough to have been drafted into the mass armies of the twentieth century) or civilians killed in the course of what could be called military operations.
Every history tells a story of what happened: one damned thing after another. But which story do you tell?
If you are telling a story of the history of five hundred years ago, you most-likely focus on Martin Luther and Jean Calvin’s Protestant Reformation, on the Spanish conquest of the Americas, on the rise of the Shāhān-e Gūrkānī—the Moghul Empire—in the Indian subcontinent, and maybe a couple more. Those are the axes of the history of the 1500s: religion, expansion, and conquest. If you are telling a story of a thousand years ago, you most-likely focus on the rise of the Song Dynasty in China, on the waning of the golden age that was Abbasid Baghdad-centered Islamic civilization, and on, perhaps, the establishment of feudal “civilization” in western Europe. Those are the axes of the history of the 1000s: politics and culture. Other stories of other centuries would most-likely focus on the Christianization of the Roman Empire, the shift of China’s population center of gravity to the rice-growing south and and so forth. The rise, diffusion, and fall of dynasties, empires, religions, and cultures are the axes of history, with perhaps some reference to what the cultures of material subsistence in the background were and how they slowly changed.
Why should you care about how our history and the history of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents--the history of the long twentieth century, 1870-2010--will appear to people five and more centuries into the future?
First of all, it makes a very good story. And it makes an even better story because the story is real. We are gossiping animals—we have evolved to like to tell and hear stories about what is happening and has happened to our friends and not-friends. We like this so much. We like this so much that out of our time that is not spent hewing wood and drawing water we spend a very large chunk gossiping and listening to gossip about not our real friends and not-friends but about imaginary friends: there is no such person as Harry Potter, and so there is no strong reason to care about what happens to him or to Severus Snape, but we do.
And the best stories to tell and listen to are the real stories, about real people: they have a depth and an import that fiction cannot reach.
Look at the bleeding edge of urban North Atlantic or East Asian civilization, and you see a world fundamentally unlike any human past. Hunting, gathering, farming, herding, spinning and weaving, cleaning, digging, smelting metal and shaping wood, assembling structures--all of the “in the sweate of thy face shalt thou eate bread” things that typical humans have typically done since we became jumped-up monkeys on the East African veldt--are now the occupations of a small and dwindling proportion of humans. And where we do have farmers, herdsmen, manufacturing workers, construction workers, and miners, they are overwhelmingly controllers of machines and increasingly programmers of robots. They are no longer people who make or shape things--facture--with their hands--manu.
At the bleeding edge of the urban North Atlantic and East Asia today, few focus on making more of necessities. There are enough calories that it is not necessary that anybody need be hungry. There is nough shelter that it is not necessary that anybody need be wet. There is enough clothing that it is not necessary that anybody need be cold. And enough stuff to aid daily life that nobody need feel under the pressure of lack of something necessary. We are not in the realm of necessity.
What do modern people do? Increasingly, they push forward the corpus of technological and scientific knowledge. They educate each other. They doctor each other. They nurse each other. They care for the young and the old. They entertain each other. They provide other services for each other to take advantage of the benefits of specialization. And they engage in complicated symbolic interactions that have the emergent effect of distributing status and power and coordinating the seven-billion person division of labor of today’s economy. We have crossed a great divide between what we used to do in all previous human history and what we do now. Since we are not in the realm of necessity, we ought to be in the realm of freedom.