Of politics and crowds: A conversation with Susan Buck-Morss

This interview with Susan Buck-Morss took place at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center on May 12 2015. Buck-Morss is Distinguished Professor of Political Philosophy at the Graduate Center and has been a towering figure in continental theory since her publication of The Origin of Negative Dialectics in 1977. Her books include Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (2009), Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left (2003), Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (2000), and The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (1991). In this interview with Zoltán Glück for FocaalBlog, Professor Buck-Morss talks about her formative years of political radicalization, the difficulties of teaching the radical tradition, and the political significance of crowds.

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Posted in Activism, Crowds, Politics | Tagged , ,

Hayek versus Polanyi: Global society as markets, all the way across?

The workshop “Geographies of Markets”—hosted over three days in mid-June 2017 by the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy at Concordia University, Montréal—gave scholars from a wide range of countries and disciplines an opportunity to assess the continued relevance of the Polanyian critique of “market society.” Even if this critique lacks the formal rigor of neoclassical economics, even if Polanyi’s concept of market exchange fails to capture the institutional intricacies of contemporary markets, and even if the man himself was very much a European intellectual of his age, his approach still appears to provide the best scientific foundation on which to build global political and normative alternatives to neoliberal hegemony. Today, however, his geographic binary between East and West, like his ideal types of redistribution and market exchange, all need careful reappraisal.

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Posted in Hayek, Polanyi | Tagged ,

How (Not) to Criticize Karl Polanyi

Once a relatively obscure Hungarian academic, Karl Polanyi has posthumously become one of the central figures in debates about globalization. This recent interest in his thought has occasioned an unsympathetic treatment by Jeremy Adelman in the Boston Review. Adelman, a Princeton professor, has scores to settle with Polanyi. But his article ends up revealing more about the limits of our current political debates than anything about the man himself.

Polanyi’s classic book, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, published in 1944, argued that the utopian obsession with self-adjusting markets had wreaked havoc in nineteenth-century European society, eventually laying the groundwork for the rise of fascism. His once unfashionable views have witnessed a remarkable revival of late. His name is frequently invoked when describing the dangers that global market integration poses to democracy. Polanyi has now moved one step closer to intellectual canonization with the publication of Gareth Dale’s excellent biography, Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left (2016), the impetus of Adelman’s article.

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Read also: Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left 

Posted in Capitalism, Polanyi | Tagged ,

Karl Polanyi: El pensador más peligroso de la izquierda

La timidez política de la izquierda ha revalorizado la figura de Karl Polanyi, autor de ‘La gran transformación’, un ensayo clásico que desborda los límites del debate económico actual.

Los pensadores de la izquierda global, en gran parte, han vivido sometidos al paradigma neoliberal, conformándose con unas migajas de keynesianismo y con que las mayorías sociales mantuviesen algún tipo de acceso a la sanidad, la educación y el seguro de desempleo. Esta timidez política de la izquierda es la que ha revalorizado la figura de Karl Polanyi (1886-1964), erudito húngaro autor de ‘La gran transformación. Los orígenes políticos y económicos de nuestro tiempo’ (1944), un ensayo clásico que desborda todos los límites del debate económico actual.

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Posted in Neoliberalism, Polanyi | Tagged ,

Neoliberalismo, autoritarismo y el auge de la extrema derecha

Fuerzas ultraderechistas aprovechan la desigualdad y el descontento social que han desgastado a los partidos tradicionales y esgrimen la necesidad de imponer seguridad

Resulta ya evidente que el crecimiento de la desigualdad en el mundo desarrollado a partir de los años ochenta, y más aún desde la crisis de 2008, ha creado descontento social y desestabilizado los regímenes políticos. Ya lo predijo Karl Polanyi: bajo la economía de mercado la libertad degenera “en una mera defensa de la libertad de empresa” que significa “la plena libertad para aquellos cuya renta, ocio y seguridad no necesitan aumentarse y apenas una miseria de libertad para el pueblo, que en vano puede intentar hacer uso de sus derechos democráticos para resguardarse del poder de los dueños de la propiedad”. Por eso la visión liberal utópica sólo puede sostenerse mediante la fuerza, la violencia y el autoritarismo. “El utopismo liberal o neoliberal está abocado”, en opinión de Polanyi, “a verse frustrado por el autoritarismo, o incluso por el fascismo absoluto”.

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Posted in Autoritarism, Neoliberalism, Polanyi | Tagged , ,

Human Agency and Behavioral Economics

This Palgrave Pivot offers comprehensive evidence about what people actually think of “nudge” policies designed to steer decision makers’ choices in positive directions. The data reveal that people in diverse nations generally favor nudges by strong majorities, with a preference for educative efforts – such as calorie labels – that equip individuals to make the best decisions for their own lives. On the other hand, there are significant arguments for noneducational nudges – such as automatic enrollment in savings plans – as they allow people to devote their scarce time and attention to their most pressing concerns.  The decision to use either educative or noneducative nudges raises fundamental questions about human freedom in both theory and practice. Sunstein’s findings and analysis offer lessons for those involved in law and policy who are choosing which method to support as the most effective way to encourage lifestyle changes.

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Handbook of Behavioural Economics and Smart Decision-Making

This Handbook is a unique and original contribution of over thirty chapters on behavioural economics, examining and addressing an important stream of research where the starting assumption is that decision-makers are for the most part relatively smart or rational. This particular approach is in contrast to a theme running through much contemporary work where individuals’ behaviour is deemed irrational, biased, and error-prone, often due to how people are hardwired. In the smart people approach, where errors or biases occur and when social dilemmas arise, more often than not, improving the decision-making environment can repair these problems without hijacking or manipulating the preferences of decision-makers. This book covers a wide-range of themes from micro to macro, including various sub-disciplines within economics such as economic psychology, heuristics, fast and slow-thinking, neuroeconomics, experiments, the capabilities approach, institutional economics, methodology, nudging, ethics, and public policy.

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Posted in behavioral economics, Decision-making | Tagged ,

How much did Plato know about behavioural economics and cognitive biases?

But the richest precedent for behavioural economics is in the works of ancient Greek philosophers. Almost 2,500 years before the current vogue for behavioural economics, Plato was identifying and seeking to understand the predictable irrationalities of the human mind. He did not verify them with the techniques of modern experimental psychology, but many of his insights are remarkably similar to the descriptions of the cognitive biases found by Kahneman and Tversky. Seminal papers in behavioural economics are highly cited everywhere from business and medical schools to the social sciences and the corporate world. But the earlier explorations of the same phenomenon by Greek philosophy are rarely appreciated. Noticing this continuity is both an interesting point of intellectual history and a potentially useful resource: Plato not only identified various specific weaknesses in human cognition, he also offered powerful proposals for how to overcome these biases and improve our reasoning and behaviour.

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The Invention of Capitalism: How a Self-Sufficient Peasantry was Whipped Into Industrial Wage Slaves

Our popular economic wisdom says that capitalism equals freedom and free societies, right? Well, if you ever suspected that the logic is full of shit, then I’d recommend checking a book called The Invention of Capitalism, written by an economic historian named Michael Perelmen, who’s been exiled to Chico State, a redneck college in rural California, for his lack of freemarket friendliness. And Perelman has been putting his time in exile to damn good use, digging deep into the works and correspondence of Adam Smith and his contemporaries to write a history of the creation of capitalism that goes beyond superficial The Wealth of Nations fairy tale and straight to the source, allowing you to read the early capitalists, economists, philosophers, clergymen and statesmen in their own words. And it ain’t pretty.

One thing that the historical record makes obviously clear is that Adam Smith and his laissez-faire buddies were a bunch of closet-case statists, who needed brutal government policies to whip the English peasantry into a good capitalistic workforce willing to accept wage slavery.

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Posted in Capitalism | Tagged

Insane Inequality

Income inequality continues to grow in the United States—which represents the very definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. According to recent data by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman, from 1979 through 2006, the share of pre-tax income going to the bottom 50 percent of U.S. households fell from an already-low 20.1 percent to an even lower 13.5 percent. During that same period, the top 1 percent went from 11.1 percent to 20.1 percent. (Their respective shares crossed in 1995, when each—the bottom 50 percent and the top 1 percent—took home about 15.5 percent of pre-tax income). In 1979, top 1-percent individuals earned on average 28 times more than bottom 50-percent individuals before tax while they earned 74 times more in 2006.

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Read also: Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates for the United States

Posted in Income, Inequality | Tagged ,