C Menger’s universal psychological metric for measuring the “subjective factor”

In subsection A. of “The Original Measure of Value,” Menger identifies a metric that will apply, he says, “Wherever men live, and whatever level of civilization they occupy.” Menger’s aim here, clearly, is not only to “scientifically” identify the transcendental subject that Kant had placed beyond the reach of mere instrumentality, but to do so using categories that themselves have universal (i.e., transcendental) significance. “[W]e can observe,” writes Menger, “how economizing individuals weigh the relative importance of satisfaction of their various needs in general, how they weigh especially the relative importance of the separate acts leading to the more or less complete satisfaction of each need, and how they are finally guided by the results of this comparison into activities directed to the fullest possible satisfaction of their needs (economizing).”

The question might then be why? It strikes me that universalization of this kind and on this order necessarily excludes and brackets other kinds of value that are less easily operationalized. I think here of the ironic fun that Aristotle makes of those who use everything as a means for increasing wealth:

For where enjoyment consists in excess, men look for that skill which produces the excess that is enjoyed. And if they cannot procure it through money-making, they try to get it by some other means, using all their faculties for this purpose, which is contrary to nature: courage, for example, is to produce confidence, not goods; nor yet is it the job of military leadership and medicine to produce goods, but victory and health. But these people tum all skills into skills of acquiring goods, as though that were the end and everything had to serve that end (Politics I.ix 1257b40-1258a14)

Or, again, from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle faults the great majority of people with idealizing what he mockingly calls a “bovine existence.”

To judge by their lives, the masses and the most vulgar seem – not unreasonably – to believe that the good or happiness is pleasure. Accordingly they ask for nothing better than the life of enjoyment. (Broadly speaking, there are three main types of life: the one just mentioned, the political and, thirdly, the contemplative.) The utter servility of the masses comes out in their preference for a bovine existence; still, their view obtains consideration from the fact that many of those who are in positions of power share the tastes of Sardanapalus (Nic Eth. I 1095b-1096a).

The question might then be how to measure a value that trumps our bodily needs—or, as Aristotle might put it—a “higher need” that cannot even be recognized by a person who is still weighed under by necessity; not the need for a cigar, but the need, for example, of uncoerced political discourse or social action.

C Menger and K Marx on "value"

For the ambitious among my PE 160 students, it might be valuable to compare K Marx’s initial discussion of "value" in Kapital (Bd. 1.1) with Menger’s discussion in Principles of Economics. Both deny that "value" is something that resides within a commodity. Yet, whereas for Menger an item has "value" because (a) it is scarce; and (b) it is an object of desire command over which is valuable to me; for Marx, value is first and foremost a social (and not of psychological) category and, therefore, what is interesting in Economics is not first my struggle to obtain a sufficient quantity of a thing that has value to me, but the relationships among social actors in which a thing possessing value acquires the value it does. Does Economics map relationships of desire; or does it map relationships of domination and submission in the production and acquisition of things possessing social value? In addition, we might ask why Kant’s transcendental subject–the psyche–assumes such a prominent place in Menger’s overall argument.

Slap to a Man’s Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia – NYTimes.com


Slap to a Man’s Pride Set Off Tumult in Tunisia – NYTimes.com

What a great set-up for reading F Fukuyama’s End of History or A Kojeve’s response to L Strauss, you might say. Man, flush with thymos, sets off revolution—just as GFW Hegel predicted it should (or was that Fukuyama, or Kojeve, or . . .).

What I find remarkable is that Fukuyama (and evidently the NYT’s Kareem Fahim) find Mohamed Bouazizi’s thymos more noteworthy than the social and economic conditions that led Bouazizi to self-immolate. In Fukuyama’s narrative, this would illustrate how the green grocer, literally, displays more thymos than the contented bourgeois businessman who counts the cost before determining that resistance would entail a net loss to his bank account. Thymos then is made the hero in a universal narrative staring the march of liberal democracy through history.

Lost in the fray is Mr Bouazizi himself, though Fahim does call attention to the economic and social plight of Mr Bouazizi and the thousands of young men who share his lot. Instead we are made to focus on what poses as an ontologically fundamental quality, the real actor in the story, thymos, whose absence in homo economicus accounts for his unwillingness to fight and die for the cause of freedom.

But let us play the tape forward. A dictator is toppled, but the social and economic conditions remain. What is more, attention to developed world’s depredations of Tunisia is successfully deferred. Wage and price protections whose removal has been a leading demand of the developed world, not to mention a global economy that has ruined the Tunisian textile industry, have helped produce an entire nation of Bouazizis. Will this latest revolt, however, lead to a true social and economic revolution? Or will it simply create the conditions under which free markets, under the cover of the hint of an appearance of democracy, is allowed to ravage the Tunisian countryside, until that moment when democracy also entails the creation of a conservative Islamic republic?

An alternative scenario might involve genuine economic and social change, raising up and protecting the standards of living of men like Mohamed Bouazizi. But surely to do so would damage Tunisia’s free market cred and so its relationship with the developed world, thymos or no thymos.

A Note on Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply – NYTimes.com


A Note on Aggregate Demand and Aggregate Supply – NYTimes.com

Some of you will have noticed how in this and in P Krugman’s subsequent piece on aggregate demand, the possibility of producing material wealth and in fact value even though the capital generating that wealth rests on bad debt may point to an additional conclusion that Krugman himself does not draw. Notice what happens when this wealth and the value that produces it and then underwrites its consumption is discovered to rest on bad debt; the material wealth persists, but its value declines. Because its abstract value declines, producers must lay off workers, cut wages and benefits, to shore up their losses. Less abstract value in consumer pockets leads to a further decline in the abstract value of material wealth; that is until producers sufficiently reduce their inventories to meet effective demand. But the point is that the material wealth remains constant while the labor value of that wealth declines and while workers are laid off. This may point to the possibility of producing material wealth without the need for its being underwritten by immaterial value. But it only points there.

Answer to the Question: What do you believe?

Over the past quarter century, since leaving seminary, friends, family, colleagues, and students have on more than one occasion taken issue with how I could both be an active member of a Christian church and also describe myself as a metaphysical non-theist or a-theist. Here’s my answer.

Over the past quarter century, since leaving seminary, friends, family, colleagues, and students have on more than one occasion taken issue with how I could both be an active member of a Christian church and also describe myself as a metaphysical non-theist or a-theist.

Since when asked what they believe, it is common for Christians to answer with some version, synopsis of, or commentary on the Apostles Creed, I have decided to provide my own short version of the latter below.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

the Maker of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Although I believe that there is no reason why Christians should not embrace natural scientific and social scientific explanations for the natural world and for social action in that world, I also believe that these explanations are not always the most necessary or helpful. This is because mere descriptions of the world—social, natural or otherwise—often overlook what some have called the “dialogical” nature of how we live in and grasp the world around us. The first article of the Creed reminds us (1) that our world is composed, made, constructed, that it is not a mere given datum; and (2) that we, either individually or collectively, are not its maker, composer, or builder. This maker, composer, or builder—what the Creed calls God, the Father Almighty—is that after which we might seek in order to better understand the world in which we live.

But I also believe that the God whom Christians might know is neither a theological nor a philosophical abstraction. Every human community and every individual comes to know God through specific disclosures. Who God is in God’s very essence is for Christians not a mystery. God in God’s very essence is “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.” The mystery, hidden from the world, but now revealed to members of the community of faith (Colossians 1:26; I Corinthians 2:7) is God incarnate. I therefore do not believe that it is helpful to look for the “real” or “deeper” or “invisible” or “disincarnate” God “behind” or “above” or “beyond” this mere appearance of a God.

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,

born of the virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,

and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;

from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Although Christians welcome further elaboration of the process through which God incarnate becomes and remains incarnate for us and for the world, the second article of the Creed impresses us from beginning to end with the physical character of this process. Here, again, I believe that it is no more helpful to emphasize the immaterial, spiritual, unseen character of Jesus’s conception or birth by a virgin than to emphasize the immaterial, spiritual, unseen character of his suffering under Pontius Pilate, his crucifixion, his death, his burial, or his descent into hell. Insofar as we are inclined leap at every opportunity to disincarnate our God, Docetism may be the theological error of contemporary communities of faith and nowhere might this error be in greater evidence than in our reflection on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the incarnate God.

The holy or sacred character of Jesus’s entrance into the world cannot therefore be lost in a general or universal doctrine of reproduction. Notwithstanding two centuries of annually celebrating the wonder of birth and the birth of babies—as though Christianity were some kind of fertility cult—we are interested in this specific woman, Mary, and this specific birth of Jesus, and this specific conception by the sacred or holy Spirit of God; here in Palestine, under Roman rule, to a family whose members were not above suspicion. Christians believe that there is a direct line connecting these specific circumstances and the train of events leading from birth to suffering, suffering to crucifixion, death, burial, and descent into hell.

Christians also believe that this Jesus and the fateful train of events set in motion by his incarnation do not draw to a close upon his burial. This incarnate God and these events have a future after the third day. Here, again, contemporary Christians are inclined to rush quickly onto dis-incarnation and thus to Docetism. But this is not yet the place to reflect on the Holy Catholic Church. Rather, in this second article, we are invited to reflect on a physical ascension into heaven—a place different from the place where we are, but a place nonetheless—and thus to the fact that this incarnate God is no longer here, but elsewhere. But we are also invited to reflect on how this departure of the incarnate God does not diminish his claim upon those whom he calls his brothers and sisters; as though his departure in some way set our theology on its feet again, removing the offense, and restoring God the Father Almighty to his rightful place. That the incarnate God “sitteth on the right hand of God” instead authorizes us to contemplate the ongoing authority of the Crucified God, whose resurrection and ascension do not abrogate, but rather authenticate, what has gone before.

It is then this Crucified God—and not some other, “higher,” “bigger,” “badder,” “better,” because “immaterial” deity—who “shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

I believe in the Holy Ghost;

the Holy Catholic Church;

the communion of saints;

the forgiveness of sins;

the resurrection of the body;

and the life everlasting.

In this third and final article, Christians are invited to contemplate the ongoing presence of the Crucified God. Therefore, instead of stumbling over one another in our race to disincarnate not only God, but also the community of faith, we should here again reflect on the tangible, palpable, presence of this “Holy Ghost” in a Holy Catholic Church and Communion of Saints. As a historian, I must confess a special fondness for the third article, because it invites us to find the incarnate God in the horizontally extended and immanent community of faith. But, again, we must resist the temptation to idealize this community, to de-temporalize it, and thereby protect it from the actual historical process of divine revelation and guidance such as, for example, is brought to light in First Corinthians 12-15. We are authorized to trust this actual historical process not because God has erected protective barriers around it, thus inviting thoughtless, uncritical, assent to a divine witness that is everywhere and always shaped by sin and death, but rather because the incarnate judge of Article Two is also the One Who forgives sin, resurrects bodies, and grants everlasting life. Sacred history, therefore, is not history stripped of sin and death, and therefore history rendered “safe for saints”—the “hidden history” of the “true Church”—but rather is the history of a community which everywhere displays its need for forgiveness and for the healing of a body whose corruption is not synonymous with its materiality.

(In this respect, I am afraid those of us within the Worldwide Anglican Communion may have admitted too much when we rejected the Roman “Holy Catholic” and replaced it with the Protestant “holy catholic”—because no human institution deserved the dignity, or authority, or respect signified by upper case letters. Note that this did not prevent us from venerating saints, who, presumably, are saintly not because they are free from sin, but because they display God’s grace in their lives.)

Friends, family-members, colleagues, and students have on occasion objected to my self-identification as a “non-theist” or “a-theist.” My guess is that this brief commentary on the Apostles Creed will neither satisfy their curiosity nor adequately respond to their objections. My aim here has been to show how I have found it possible to reject metaphysical theism while embracing the incarnate God and the community of faith—the Church—which is His Body in the world. Here, the Third Article might be taken as a summation of this faith. When I say that I believe in the Holy Ghost, I mean the Holy Ghost as displayed in and through the ongoing divine incarnation visible in and through the Holy Catholic Church. For me, this entails actually listening to, learning from, and engaging with the words and beliefs of the communion of saints—and not simply the communion of saints here and now, in my small corner of the world, but throughout time. So engaging with this communion, I have become aware of its everywhere evident need for the forgiveness of sins, of which there are many; but, also, therefore, of our own need for forgiveness. What makes us a Holy Catholic Church is not our sinlessness; even less the sinlessness of our Creed or Confession. For, were “sinlessness” our criteria, we could well dismiss and forget the communion of saints, which from top to bottom and east to west is deeply incomplete and terribly flawed. So dismissed and forgotten, we could then stamp “DEAD” on the seal above our so-called communion of saints.

Only as forgiven and re-membered can we participate in this communion that stretches from the beginning to the end of time; which is what I take to be the meaning of “life everlasting”: namely, to be re-membered and so counted a member of His Body among the living.

Thucydides on Political Hatred

So revolutions broke out in city after city, and in places where the revolutions occurred late the knowledge of what had happened previously in other places caused still new extravagances of revolutionary zeal, expressed by an elaboration in the methods of seizing power and by unheard-of atrocities in revenge. To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defense. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching. If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of fear of the opposition. In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at all. Family relations were a weaker tie than party membership, since party members were more ready to go to any extreme for any reason whatever. These parties were not formed to enjoy the benefits of the established laws, but to acquire power by overthrowing the existing regime; and the members of these parties felt confidence in each other not because of any fellowship in a religious communion, but because they were partners in crime. If an opponent made a reasonable speech, the party in power, so far from giving it a generous reception, took every precaution to see that it had no practical effect. Revenge was more important than self-preservation. And if pacts of mutual security were made, they were entered into by the two parties only in order to meet some temporary difficulty, and remained in force only so long as there was no other weapon available. When the chance came, the one who first seized it boldly, catching his enemy off his guard, enjoyed a revenge that was all the sweeter from having been taken, not openly, but because of a breach of faith. It was safer that way, it was considered, and at the same time a victory won by treachery gave one a title for superior intelligence. And indeed most people are more ready to call villainy cleverness than simple-mindedness honesty. They are proud of the first quality and ashamed of the second.

Love of power, operating through greed and through personal ambition, was the cause of all these evils. To this must be added the violent fanaticism which came into play once the struggle had broken out. Leaders of parties in the cities had programmes which appeared admirable—on one side political equality for the masses, on the other the safe and sound government of the aristocracy—but in professing to serve the public interest they were seeking to win the prizes for themselves. In their struggles for ascendancy nothing was barred; terrible indeed were the actions to which they committed themselves, and in taking revenge they went farther still. Here they were deterred neither by the claims of justice nor by the interests of the state; their one standard was the pleasure of their own party at that particular moment, and so, either by means of condemning their enemies on all illegal vote or by violently usurping power over them, they were always ready to satisfy the hatreds of the hour. Thus neither side had any use for conscientious motives; more interest was shown in those who could produce attractive arguments to justify some disgraceful action. As for the citizens who held moderate views, they were destroyed by both the extreme parties, either for not taking part in the struggle or in envy at the possibility that they might survive.

As the result of these revolutions, there was a general deterioration of character throughout the Greek world. The simple way of looking at things, which is so much the mark of a noble nature, was regarded as a ridiculous quality and soon ceased to exist. Society had become divided into two ideologically hostile camps, and each side viewed the other with suspicion. As for ending this state of affairs, no guarantee could be given that would be trusted, no oath sworn that people would fear to break; everyone had come to the conclusion that it was hopeless to expect a permanent settlement and so, instead of being able to feel confident in others, they devoted their energies to providing against being injured themselves. As a rule those who were least remarkable for intelligence showed the greater powers of survival. Such people recognized their own deficiencies and the superior intelligence of their opponents; fearing that they might lose a debate or find themselves out-maneuvered in intrigue by their quick-witted enemies, they boldly launched straight into action; while their opponents, overconfident in the belief that they would see what was happening in advance, and not thinking it necessary to seize by force what they could secure by policy, were the more easily destroyed because they were off their guard (Thucydides, Peloponnesian Wars [431 BCE], ii.82-83).

History Network Pulls Plug On Kennedy Series : NPR


History Network Pulls Plug On Kennedy Series : NPR

If you are getting your history from for-profit, corporate, media, you are not getting history. But this is hardly the end of this McHistory charade. Kennedy will air elsewhere and individuals lacking the interest, energy and time to get their history the old-fashioned way will mistake this for-profit mockery of history as the real thing. The problem, of course, is not that fictional accounts of historical events are produced or enjoyed. The problem is that the educational system in our country—made even worse by the net-non-neutrality and corporate, for-profit, “news”—is so atrociously underfunded that here, as perhaps nowhere else, viewers lack the tools they would need to distinguish fact from fiction. Truth is what sells; and what sells quickly becomes the truth. So, kudos to Robert G and the others who brought this monstrosity down. A shame that it is one skirmish in a battle, and a minor battle in a war, that we all are losing.

Waiting for “Superman”: A Critical Review (Part V)


Superintendent Rhee’s Offer

Why did the union refuse to bring Superintendent Michelle Rhee’s offer to a vote? The answer to this question lies in the spurious nature of the so-called “tenure” system in public education. “Tenure” suggests both professional independence and security. That is to say, it not only suggests the security of “tenured” faculty, but also the academic, programmatic, curricular independence of the professional body offering tenure. But, as we have already seen, for public school systems, “tenure” has been reduced simply to job security, i.e., protection against arbitrary decisions by management. School teachers, in fact, enjoy virtually no professional independence or curricular discretion. Nor, by law, can they. What they teach is subject, in its entirety, to the will of non-professionals; ultimately to citizens who vote for school board members, council members, and state legislators.

What this means is that Michelle Rhee’s offer to grant Washington, DC, teachers professional status and independence was an offer she had no authority to make, and surely had no authority to enforce. No matter how the vote might have turned out, Washington, DC, teachers would have enjoyed no more professional, curricular, independence after the vote as before. The only effect the vote could have had would have been to deprive the union of the only right it had: to protect its members from arbitrary management decisions. In other words, it would have been a lose-lose vote for the union.

Nevertheless, we can well appreciate Michelle Rhee’s frustration as well as the frustration of concerned adults throughout the Washington, DC, area. In many ways, it would be far better for our public schools were teachers empowered with real tenure—and real professional responsibility—than the spurious tenure system it now has. Just as it would be better if the health, well-being, and livelihoods of working families was considered separately from how we educate our children. Tragically, on both fronts, the United States is the lone exception among advanced industrialized nations. Just as all other advanced industrialized nations provide universal health care, housing, education, and old age security to their citizens; so no other advanced industrialized nation would ever hand decisions respecting academic content over to individuals who enjoy no competence in the fields being taught.

So, where does that leave us? Does it leave us still waiting for superman or superwoman? I hope not. The issue now, as it has always been, is not how we can nurture and educate children who enjoy the support of interested and available adults; but how we can nurture and educate children who, for whatever reason, do not enjoy this support. And, the question is whether we help such children by undermining organized labor, or by removing public oversight and public regulatory authority from our institutions of public education. I would suggest not. Rather than weakening the bargaining power of teachers and their families, we would do far better to help organized bargaining units who represent teachers also become the responsible professional bodies they should and need to be.

Davis Guggenheim could have exposed an inconvenient truth. The neo-liberals and conservatives whose rhetoric dominates the debate over public education feel that public school teachers are paid far too much, that our public schools cost far too much, that they are subject to far too much public oversight and regulation, and that private corporations and managers should play a more central role in our children’s education. This, however, is an easy lie. The story Guggenheim might have told would have shown how we can ensure a sufficient preponderance of adults who have the interest, energy and time necessary to leave a positive impact on public education. He did not. And the loss is ours.

Waiting for “Superman”: A Critical Review (Part IV)

Between Harlem and Redwood City

But, wait, say Guggenheim and his authorities. We went to Harlem and we went to Redwood City. And we discovered that, just as there are bad teachers in Redwood City, there are good teachers in Harlem. And we discovered that it was these good and bad teachers, not the neighborhoods or family household incomes that made the difference.

However, if that is what Guggenheim and his authorities discovered, that is not what they showed in their documentary. What they showed in their documentary was that, wherever adults have the interest, energy, and time to devote to children, children are more likely to succeed—irrespective of neighborhoods and family household incomes—than where adults do not have interest, energy, and time.

So, in fact, Guggenheim and his authorities asked the wrong question. They asked: will public schools in safe neighborhoods with a high property tax base guarantee good learning outcomes for our children. A century of peer-reviewed research says “No.” They should instead have asked: will public schools in any neighborhood, irrespective of the property tax base, but with adults who have the interest, energy, and time to devote to students guarantee good learning outcomes. A century of peer-reviewed research says “Maybe.” “Maybe” and not “Yes,” because Guggenheim and his authorities should also have addressed themselves to the much more complicated problem: how do we ensure that there are sufficient adults, with sufficient interest, energy, and time to devote to our children to ensure better learning outcomes?

Here is where Guggenheim’s attack on organized labor is not so much mistaken as it is incomplete. To his credit, Guggenheim acknowledges the historical value of labor unions. Teachers were admittedly being abused by administrators. They needed representation. But, sadly, Guggenheim gets this admitted need for representation mixed up with the process known as tenure. Not only are the need for representation and the process of tenure unrelated; the one logically excludes the other. Tenure is a procedure whereby a professional organization ensures the proficiency of its membership and protects its membership from consequences of arbitrary decisions made by non-members. For example, a department of classics at a university will tenure a professor—protect that professor from the consequences of arbitrary decisions made by administrators, politicians, or students—only if it is assured that the professor will maintain the high academic standards and independence maintained by existing members. The curriculum of public school teachers, by contrast, is dictated, often in detail, by non-teaching professionals, by legislators, legislative committees, school board members and administrators. No provision whatsoever is made, or legally can be made, for input from unions or union representatives who are there, not to determine or protect academic standards, but, as with any organized labor union, to protect wages, working conditions, and benefits. Teachers in public schools have little or no control over what they teach in the classroom, which is determined instead almost entirely by elected or appointed individuals—members of school boards, superintendents, legislators, city council men and women—individuals who have no necessary expertise in the subjects taught at public schools, but at best only an expertise in seeking and retaining public office.

This sheds some much needed light on the scene in Guggenheim’s documentary where the superintendent of Washington, DC’s public schools offers to double teacher’s salaries in exchange for the teacher’s union scrapping tenure. Her aim in offering the exchange is to make it possible to get rid of bad teachers whose jobs are protected by the system of tenure. The union refuses to bring the offer to a vote among its members, presumably because it would have been approved, and so the offer dies.