R Lucas The Privatization of Knowledge?

It could be argued that no sooner had 15th century northern Italian markets expanded into western and northern Europe, than monarchs and lords also began to reshape governing institutions to take better advantage of these changes in production and knowledge, in which case private production and knowledge have always been intimately linked. Without institutions for revenue collecting, a means to raise and deploy armed forces, and population control (laws), private capital could not have made the advances in production and knowledge that it did beginning in the 15th century. But from that point forward, i.e., as early as the 15th century, it was private capital that was reshaping governing institutions in its image, and not the reverse.

Still, for whatever reason, the kinds of knowledge that were deemed valuable in the 15th century differ dramatically from the kinds of knowledge that R Lucas (and we?) currently have in mind. It was, after all, not too terribly long ago that institutions of higher learning valued the humanities and social sciences not merely as supplements to maximizing private capital’s return on investment, but as legitimate and essential fields of learning, research, and knowledge in their own right.

Since this is so, we might well wonder whether the increasingly private character of knowledge production and exchange, as well as the kinds of knowledge that are valued, reflects this shift over time from a still viable and reasonably independent public sphere; whose protection from private capital was deemed an essential part of protecting republican values and democratic institutions, to a public sphere whose composition, aims, ideals, and means are barely distinguishable from those of the private sphere; and whose forms of knowledge are produced in much the same way and valued for many of the same reasons as private capital.

R Lucas “Knowledge Spillovers”

To understand how [the rate of diffusion of technology depends on economic interactions—on trade—], and thus to understand the extreme variability of development experience and the policies that lead to successful development, we need to get deeper into the nature of knowledge spillovers (Lectures on Economic Growth, 9).

Is Lucas simply saying that trading partners inadvertently share more than goods and capital, or is he also saying that free trade causes or deliberately brings about the exchange of know-how? Because we could also say that before ideas can promote productivity in a country with whom we trade, there must be in that country a fairly complex set of institutional arrangements, capital assets, and human capital that make the use of that knowledge, and the sharing of this knowledge, likely and possible.

Here, as elsewhere, correlation need not entail causation and often does not. While we will not pick the nit over whether technological diffusion “depends” on trade, we would also like to point out that it depends on much else besides and that, causally, these other things might be more critical than trade.

R Lucas and Ideas

Even assuming that knowledge—and, more importantly, the aggregation of knowledge—attract both labor and capital; we might still want to ask: first, what kind of knowledge? and, second, who or what is the gate-keeper?

R Lucas and the Historical Specificity of Development

The law of diminishing returns gives a reasonable explanation both of why there are so many people per square mile in the lush plain of Bengal, compared to the tundra of northern Canada, and also of why living standards are about the same in these two places . . . If the new technology was embodied in new machines or in expert Englishmen, why did these machines and experts not go abroad, to be combined in production with inexpensive foreign labor rather than with expensive English workers? (Lectures on Economic Growth, 3)

R Lucas is fully capable of thinking through geographical and even demographic differences—note the example, middle of page three, from Bengal and Canada. But will he be able to articulate the roles that nationalism, imperialism, and politics play in the reasons that machines and experts not only failed to find there way to all shores in the Empire, but may not have been welcomed on these shores—by British investors, by local oligarchs—even assuming they could have made this journey?

The story R Lucas will have to tell, however, will not concern local oligarchs, nationalism, or imperialism; he is developing a model of development.

What Was Karl Marx’s Principal Contribution? – Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality with All Ten Tentacles

What Was Karl Marx’s Principal Contribution? – Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality with All Ten Tentacles

Before responding to B DeLong’s very abbreviated thoughts about K Marx and his contribution, I have to plead ignorance to the events or postings that might have provoked it. Did I know these events or postings, I might have a better understanding of why Mr DeLong foregrounds the points he does while backgrounding others.

And, yet, there is considerable value in taking Mr DeLong at his word; this, in his view, was Karl Marx’s principal contribution.

First, I appreciate all attempts, and not simply B DeLong’s, to seat theory in history, where it belongs. This habit of mind, in fact, may be among K Marx’s leading contributions. To be sure, GFW Hegel paved the way for this habit, exploring how it was possible for Mind (which is subject to change) to grasp the historical conditions of its own possibility. But, where Hegel ends up in much the same place as I Kant, with universally valid objectivity, K Marx proposes a much more modest (and, transcendentally, much less satisfying) intermediate place: the adequacy of thought to its own socio-historically specific conditions of possibility.

Marx was therefore not nearly as troubled as later Marxists would be in admitting both that he made use of the interpretive categories of the “bourgeois economists,” and that these (and all) interpretive categories lacked universal validity.

What is troubling about Mr DeLong’s seating of K Marx historically, is that this particular positioning tells us very little either about Marx or about his interpretive categories. For example, it tells us next to nothing of the path that led from him a fairly pedestrian philosophy of subjectivity a la’ GFW Hegel, to a more nuanced and precarious neo-Aristotelian philosophy of freedom and necessity. Mr Marx was not nearly the dilettante suggested by Mr DeLong, flying from one theoretical vantage point to the next, without serious critical reflection along the way.

Indeed, it could be suggested (I would suggest) that he proved a poor British political economist because his (increasingly) historically grounded theory of subjectivity did not allow him to universalize and transhistoricize “human nature” in the sloppy, unnuanced manner then common among British political economists.

Second, I believe that Marx’s post-1848/49 adjustment, to which Brad refers, might be welcomed among economists today, many of whom (present company excluded) appear perfectly happy to stick by their theory irrespective of political, economic, or social changes.

Finally, however, it strikes me that Mr DeLong may be gauging K Marx’s contribution on how much (or little) of his theory has been incorporated into contemporary economic or political economic reflection. That is certainly a valid standpoint.

There are, however, risks that follow from taking this standpoint too far. Departments and disciplines tend to be very incestuous, and risk growing even more incestuous the greater the similarities are among the ever smaller range of interpretive frameworks entertained within a field.

A great many Marxian and post-Marxian economists have made significant contributions over the past twenty-five years—and not simply to the theory of value—that will never be considered by members of Economics Departments; and this for the (I believe) insufficient reason that the interpretive categories deployed in these departments are too narrow, self-referential, and historically ungrounded to accommodate them.

Be that as it may, I appreciate that B DeLong took the time to collect some thoughts about Marx’s contribution and so provoke others to do the same.

CBC.ca | As it Happens | Tuesday, April 5, 2011


CBC.ca | As it Happens | Tuesday, April 5, 2011

If you missed the CBC’s interview with Donna Marsh O’Conner this evening, you should follow the link and listen to the segment. Ms. O’Conner lost her daughter in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

In this interview, she expresses regret that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will not be tried according to the rule of law under the US Constitution, but according to military law, where guarantees of Due Process and Habeas Corpus are, at best, questionable.

Much more eloquently than I could, Ms. O’Conner identifies the ways that Attorney General Holder and President Obama caved into political pressure from Republican politicians to suspend the rule of law and Due Process.

For the purposes of our studies this semester, Ms. O’Conner’s spirited defense of Republican institutions and values is packed with significance. At the very least it places the primacy of the political (think Carl Schmitt) over the rule of law at center stage, not simply in the pressure placed on Holder and Obama by Republicans, but on Obama’s own political calculation that it could be a mistake to mount a reelection campaign with this issue haunting him in the background. Both calculations are strictly political.

But, Ms. O’Conner’s statement also foregrounds the increasingly tenuous character of the rule of law for a political community whose participants are increasingly ignorant and dismissive of (or even hostile toward) the founding principles of their own constitution.

Finally, the interview suggests that post-democratic society is fully compatible with political actors who become increasingly sensitive to the mass character of public sentiment and not by law or reason.

Backstory Of A Revolution: Studying Tweets, Posts : NPR


Backstory Of A Revolution: Studying Tweets, Posts : NPR

MAZEN NAHAWI suggests that social media promotes the habit of democracy because it habituates users to the practice of expressing their likes/dislikes and preferences. If this is what Mr. Nahawi—from New Group International—is suggesting then what kind of democracy does social media habituate users for?

Could we have democracy via focus groups? Could we have democracy via product choice/selection?

What I find interesting about this story is the connection that Mr. Nahawi draws between market choice or consumer preference and political action and/or institutional transformation. It strikes me that either the latter will assume a form similar to the initial practice, OR that there are a few steps missing, such as, what Egyptian youth were tweeting about, how did they envision free institutions or political practices, etc.

That is to say, Mr. Nahawi appears to reduce democracy to a formal system and to bracket content.