The WEA CONFERENCE Food and Justice: Ideas for a new global food agenda? is now open.

The DISCUSSION FORUM  is open access. http://foodandjustice2016.weaconferences.net/papers/

The purpose of the Conference Food and Justice is to enhance a debate that could stimulate the articulation of various aspects of the relationship between food and justice.  Although the scope and intensity of these challenges vary according to the economic situation of countries, the debate has been global. Current food challenges involve issues ranging from food access to national and international regulation.

Food production has always been present in the economic debate because of the concern about population growth and demographic changes. In spite of the Malthusian concern, new methods of food production have emerged which allowed the increase in food supply. Technological changes, however, have not occurred uniformly throughout the world. Indeed, some countries have managed to expand their production and trade surpluses while situations of hunger remained a reality in many parts of the world.

In addition to technological factors in food production, other political and economic issues are involved in the access to food. In the 21st century, the scenario of changes in food production means that even with a larger supply of food, many people, mainly the poor ones, still live in a situation of starvation. In addition to the challenges in food access, other relevant issue is food waste. Actually, a large percentage of the world food production is lost throughout the different stages of production, transportation, processing and consumption. Indeed, among the current concerns, there is the need to search for actions that can reduce the food losses that could face the situation of hunger of millions of people.

The agriculture and food industries are part of the list of “global” sectors. Indeed, a global network of institutions supplies the worldwide food markets. In this scenario, one of the major outcomes of the expansion of the global supply chain is the changing role of the local farm sector under the pressure of international competition. Contract farming and integrated supply chains are deeply transforming the structure of the agriculture and food industries. Besides, the advance of the biotech revolution and the introduction of genetically improved varieties have also fostered structural changes in the global industry. These systemic changes are linked to financial and trade flows largely driven by the search for wider markets and less expensive sources of raw material.

This process of globalization of capital in food production arises other problems related to the growth of investments in big projects led by investment funds and transnational companies that purchase land in various parts of the world in order to increase global production. In truth, these investments often expose small farmers to a situation of hunger and food insecurity by expelling them from the land where they live.

We invite you to send your comments to the  posted papers. Join the discussion !

http://foodandjustice2016.weaconferences.net/papers/

Posted Papers 

Fast and integrated revision of agricultural risk management in Brazil

Diet Risks in Resource Rich Countries

Putting Social Justice First: The Case of Islamic Economics

The democratisation of access to land in Brazil between 2003-2015

Public procurement of family farming in Brazil

Food Sovereignty: A Strategy for Environmental Justice

What is Good to Eat? The Big Question of our Times

Technical Efficiency Analysis of Pineapple Production in the Eastern Region of Ghana: Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) Approach

Cassava price volatility: evidence from Ghana

Land use conflict among vegetable farmers in Denu: Determinants, Causes and Consequences

Sustainable rural development index

roulettefinancePrior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007), many senior economists and policy makers expressed confidence that they had finally solved the problem of business cycles, booms and busts, that plagues capitalism. Because of this over-confidence, early warnings of a looming crisis by Nouriel Roubini, Ann Pettifor, Peter Schiff, Steven Keen, Dean Baker, and Raghuram Rajan, were ridiculed and dismissed. Even after the crisis, many economists thought this was a minor glitch, which would soon be remedied. Now however, while conventional economists continue to search for reasons for the mysterious stagnation besetting capitalistic economies, the weak and jobless recovery from the GFC has been labeled as an illusion and a false dawn by Schiff. Like him, deeper analysts are converging on the idea that the problems run deep, and that radical changes in the global financial architecture are required to solve current problems and prevent future crises.

For instance, consider Lord Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England from 2003 to 2013. His experience at the heart of the global financial system led him to the conclusion that   “Of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today. … (can we) think our way through to a better outcome before the next generation is damaged by a future and bigger crisis?” Similarly, Minneapolis Federal Reserve President, Narayana Kocherlakota , after viewing the stark conflicts between the empirical evidence and the macroeconomic theories over the past ten years, writes the economists use “Toy Models” which do not work in face of the complexities of real life

There are two central elements which lie at the core of the fragility of the financial system. The first problem is credit-creation by banks. This means that when banks give loans, they create credit out of thin air. This ability enables corporate raiders to buy multi-billion dollar corporations without any money in their pockets using financial gimmicks. The second problem, closely related to the first one, is the use of interest instead of equity in the lending process. This means that banks can lend for mega-projects designed to fail, because they are guaranteed a return of their money regardless of outcomes. Bankers have successfully created the illusion that they are necessary, so that when borrowers can’t pay back outrageously risky loans, the government re-imburses the banks for their losses. Both of these problems at the heart of the financial system can be fixed, but the ability of high finance to create huge amounts of money at will gives the financiers ample resources to block any attempts at solving the problems. The 1% who benefit from this financial system have created a robust and resilient multidimensional system of defense to protect, preserve, and sustain the current fragile and crisis prone financial architecture. Using billions of dollars of funding, many different institutions, which include academia, media, think tanks, policy makers, regulators, politicians, and the military-corporate-industrial complex, have been co-opted by high finance. In an article entitled “It Takes a Village to Maintain a Dangerous Financial System,” Stanford professor Anat Admati describes how these different institutions work together to maintain and perpetuate the current financial system. In this article, I focus on the how economic theory itself has been captured by the top 1% and changed to serve their interests.

The role of economic theory should have been to clarify and expose the structure of the economic system, so that economists could understand it and make it work better for all. Instead, economic theory has been captured by the financiers and turned into a propaganda machine, which hides the realities of the system. Modern economics textbooks continue to teach myths which are overwhelmingly contradicted by the empirical evidence. In particular, they teach that the quantity of money and the levels of debt do not have any long run effects on the economy. They teach that consumers and businesses can accurately foresee that path of future prices, and of government policy, and plan purchases and investments accordingly. They teach that levels of inequality do not matter because wealth will trickle down. The distinction between needs and wants has been erased from the textbooks. Economists used to be concerned about rentiers – people who earn money without doing any work to deserve it. Current economics textbooks no longer mention the concept. Instead they teach that markets efficiently recognize and reward participants: if you make money, it means that you deserve to make money. This leads to the idea that the more wealthy you are, the greater is your contribution to society. When this myth is combined with the trickle-down myth, it leads to tax cuts for the rich advocated by Trump, and a guiding policy principle in the USA since the Reagan era. Small wonder that ex IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard wrote that modern models used for conduct of monetary policy are based on “assumptions profoundly at odds with what we know about consumers and firms”.

Like Blanchard, economists who have contact with reality have come to recognize the deep flaws in the economic theories used for the conduct of monetary and fiscal policy around the globe. Highly respected economist Paul Romer, recently appointed Chief Economist at the World Bank, has created shock waves among economists by a trenchant critique entitled “The Trouble with Macroeconomics.”  He writes that for more than three decades, macroeconomics has gone backwards, losing knowledge instead of gaining it. Since banks, financiers, money, unemployment, debt, inequality, rentiers, and all other major drivers of the modern economy have been removed from the picture by economists, contemporary macroeconomic models  “attribute fluctuations in aggregate variables to imaginary causal forces .”  Romer notes that economists’ blatant disregard for facts in conflict with their imaginary theories is so extraordinary that it deserves its own label – he suggests “post-real”.   Even though there are formidable obstacles in the path from this imaginary post-real world of economists to reality, humanity urgently needs to find a way, if the bottom 99%, and the planet we live on, is to survive.

Originally published in Express Tribune, Dec 4, 2016. Related materials on the Global Financial Crisis. My author page on LinkedIn Index to my writings: AZPROJECTS. Closely related: Unlearning Economics. My personal webpage: Transforming Knowledge.

The DISCUSSION FORUM  is open access. http://foodandjustice2016.weaconferences.net/papers/

The purpose of the WEA Conference Food and Justice is to enhance a debate that could stimulate the articulation of various aspects of the relationship between food and justice.  Although the scope and intensity of these challenges vary according to the economic situation of countries, the debate has been global. Current food challenges involve issues ranging from food access to national and international regulation.

Food production has always been present in the economic debate because of the concern about population growth and demographic changes. In spite of the Malthusian concern, new methods of food production have emerged which allowed the increase in food supply. Technological changes, however, have not occurred uniformly throughout the world. Indeed, some countries have managed to expand their production and trade surpluses while situations of hunger remained a reality in many parts of the world.

In addition to technological factors in food production, other political and economic issues are involved in the access to food. In the 21st century, the scenario of changes in food production means that even with a larger supply of food, many people, mainly the poor ones, still live in a situation of starvation. In addition to the challenges in food access, other relevant issue is food waste. Actually, a large percentage of the world food production is lost throughout the different stages of production, transportation, processing and consumption. Indeed, among the current concerns, there is the need to search for actions that can reduce the food losses that could face the situation of hunger of millions of people.

The agriculture and food industries are part of the list of “global” sectors. Indeed, a global network of institutions supplies the worldwide food markets. In this scenario, one of the major outcomes of the expansion of the global supply chain is the changing role of the local farm sector under the pressure of international competition. Contract farming and integrated supply chains are deeply transforming the structure of the agriculture and food industries. Besides, the advance of the biotech revolution and the introduction of genetically improved varieties have also fostered structural changes in the global industry. These systemic changes are linked to financial and trade flows largely driven by the search for wider markets and less expensive sources of raw material.

This process of globalization of capital in food production arises other problems related to the growth of investments in big projects led by investment funds and transnational companies that purchase land in various parts of the world in order to increase global production. In truth, these investments often expose small farmers to a situation of hunger and food insecurity by expelling them from the land where they live.

We invite you to send your comments to the  posted papers. Join the discussion !

http://foodandjustice2016.weaconferences.net/papers/

Posted Papers 

Fast and integrated revision of agricultural risk management in Brazil

Diet Risks in Resource Rich Countries

Putting Social Justice First: The Case of Islamic Economics

The democratisation of access to land in Brazil between 2003-2015

Public procurement of family farming in Brazil

Food Sovereignty: A Strategy for Environmental Justice

What is Good to Eat? The Big Question of our Times

Technical Efficiency Analysis of Pineapple Production in the Eastern Region of Ghana: Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) Approach

Cassava price volatility: evidence from Ghana

Land use conflict among vegetable farmers in Denu: Determinants, Causes and Consequences

Sustainable rural development index

keynesgtFifth Post in a sequence on Re-Reading Keynes. 

Chapter 1 of General Theory is just one paragraph, displayed in full HERE

Briefly: Keynes writes that Classical Economics is a special case of his General Theory. Furthermore, the assumptions required for the special case do not hold for contemporary economic societies,”with the result that its teaching is misleading and disastrous if we attempt to apply it to the facts of experience”

The discussion below borrows extensively, without explicit point-by-point acknowledgement, from Brian S. Ferguson, “Lectures on John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1): Chapter One, Background and Historical Setting” University of Guelph Department of Economics and Finance Discussion Paper No. 2013-06:

1.       RHETORIC: Keynes wishes to persuade fellow economists. Instead of saying that they are all wrong, blinkered idiots, he says that they are studying a special case, which he wishes to generalize. He also acknowledges that he was misled by the same errors, and creates common ground to enable dialog. He is also making a subliminal appeal to the hugely influential General Theory of Relativity published earlier by Einstein.

2.       INVENTION OF MACRO: The revolutionary contribution of Keynes is to study aggregates, instead of micro-level behavior. He is correctly labelled the inventor of macro-economics; prior to him, economists thought that the aggregate behavior would be obtained simply as a sum of the individual behaviors; there is no need to study macroeconomics separately. Parenthetically, it is this same position to which macro-economists retreated in the 70’s and 80’s with the development of DSGE model. Ferguson writes that:

Arguably, prior to the General Theory, most professional economists thought of the macroeconomy in a general equilibrium sense, as an aggregate of a large number of individual markets, and they assumed that the analysis of how individual markets behaved could be carried over pretty much unchanged to the collection of markets which constituted the economy as a whole. There was, it seemed, no need to think of the economy as anything other than the sum of its parts, and an understanding of how those parts worked was sufficient to understand how the economy as a whole worked. After the General Theory, that no longer held. Economists started to think in terms of aggregates.

3.       COMPLEX SYSTEMS: The flaws of this attempt to build macro on micro-foundations are still not well understood by modern economists due to the blinders of methodological individualism. These flaws include the failure to understand “Complexity Theory”, “Emergent Behaviors” and the influence of community and society on individual behavior. Basically, a complex system is one in which the behavior of the system as a whole cannot be inferred or deduced from the study of the individual parts, because it is the inter-relationships and linkages between the parts which create the system.  An extensive discussion of Keynes and complex systems is provided by John Foster, Why is Economics not a Complex Systems Science? Discussion Paper No. 336, December 2004, School of Economics, The University of Queensland. A brief quote from the abstract for the paper:

The macroeconomics of John Maynard Keynes is … an example of … (a) complex systems perspective on the economy. … the reasons why a complex systems perspective did not develop in the mainstream of economics in the 20th Century, despite the massive popularity of an economist like Keynes are discussed …

4.       MISUNDERSTANDING KEYNES: Very few read Keynes, and those who do fail to understand him for several reasons. Conceptual frameworks and background institutional structures (like the gold standard) are taken for granted and implicit in the analysis and discussion, but these have changed radically over time. In addition, “Keynes was inventing a new way of looking at the economy as a whole. He was struggling to develop concepts and invent terms, and many of the terms which he invented are not the ones we use today.” Because of this mis-understanding, revivals of Keynes (Like New Keynesians) often reject principles which Keynes considered central to his analysis, and accept propositions that Keynes firmly rejected.  Another reason for neglect of Keynes is the positivist reduction of scientific knowledge to binaries: true/false. What matters for a statement is whether or not it is relevant and valid for today, not whether or not Keynes said it, or what he meant. As Krugman puts it: Surely we don’t want to do economics via textual analysis of the masters. The questions one should ask about any economic approach are whether it helps us understand what’s going on, and whether it provides useful guidance for decisions. “So I don’t care whether Hicksian IS-LM is Keynesian in the sense that Keynes himself would have approved of it, and neither should you.” If theories have universal, time invariant, validity, then this would be a correct position. However, the basis premise of this re-reading of Keynes is that economic theories must be understood within their historical context.

5.       SAY’s LAW: The crucial issue under debate, tackled in the 2nd chapter of Keynes is: Can unemployment be reduced using fiscal policy and deficit financing? Keynes argues that it can, contrary to the view of classical that “unemployment” is not a problem – Supply and Demand for labor will equilibrate. Say’s Law holds so that the supply of labor will create the demand for it.

6.       CROWDING OUT: A crucial argument against Keynes is the Treasury View: Government investment will crowd out an equal amount of private investment. Government must borrow credit from the same market that private borrowers do. To the extent that Government succeeds in borrowing, private investors will fail in borrowing. This argument fails if the private sector expands the supply of credit in response to increased government demand for borrowing. Therefore the Treasury View is supplemented by two more pragmatic arguments. Second Treasury argument is based on extreme lags and inefficiencies in the governmental bureaucracies selection and launching of major public works projects. Such lags could mean that a intended counter-cyclical investment could be delayed so long as to become pro-cyclical.

7.       PRACTICAL PROBLEMS WITH PUBLIC WORKS: There were other practical, pragmatic aspects to the Treasury View, that governments cannot or should not spend their way out of a recession. To avoid the lags in fiscal policy, one needs “shovel-ready” projects to finance.  One of the most interesting quotes from Ferguson in this regard is:

cash-strapped local governments would cut back on their spending in response to increased central government spending in their areas. … Herbert Hoover, contrary to the image which he has acquired as a consequence of not being FDR, did not cut American federal government spending in response to the Depression, rather he increased it dramatically. … His first policy efforts involved spending federal money on shovel-ready public works projects, meaning projects which were already well into the planning stages and which needed only to have their commencement dates brought forward. In addition to finding that there weren’t anything like as many shovel-ready projects as he had hoped, Hoover found that state governments, whose own revenues were severely stressed by the Depression, responded to inflows of federal money by cutting their own relief spending, and moving to balance their budgets. (Many years later, officials from Franklin Roosevelt’s administration acknowledged that the bits of the New Deal which had actually worked were the bits they had simply taken over from Hoover. By then, though, Hoover’s reputation was pretty much beyond repair.)

8.       GOOD GOVERNANCE: Another very serious pragmatic Treasury concern was that Keynesian policy would lead to irresponsible excessive spending by politicians.

The need to keep the budget balanced had come to be accepted over the years by politicians as a matter of good governance. Treasury officials were concerned that if they accepted Keynes’ argument and gave politicians an excuse to spend in excess of revenue in some circumstances, the floodgates would burst and it would be impossible to prevent politicians from overspending under virtually all circumstances. The concern seems to have been that no matter what the circumstances, politicians would be able to come up for Keynesian reasons for deficit spending. In that fear, the Treasury officials seem to have been vindicated. As for staying on the Gold Standard the concern within the Treasury was similar: adherence to the rules of the Gold Standard was the best safeguard against unrestrained printing of money. (When Britain went off the Gold Standard for good in 1931, Sidney Webb, a member of a previous Labour party government, was reported to have lamented that when they had been in office nobody had told them that they were allowed to do that.)

Among the predecessors of Keynes, Ferguson writes that Keynes views were aligned with those of Malthus and against those of Ricardo on the following key dimensions:

9.       Against Comparative Statics: Keynes objected to Ricardian analysis on the grounds that it analyzed movements from one equilibrium state to another, without considering the disequilibrium transitional paths, and how long the transition would take. This is the context for his famous aphorism that in the long run we are all dead. He believed that studying transitional dynamics was more important than focusing on equilibrium conditions.

10.   Quick Movement to Equilibrium in Labor Markets:  Keynes objected strongly to Ricardian contentions that “labour markets worked efficiently and that wages would adjust quickly to restore equilibrium after a labour market shock.” This belief, widely held, was labeled “classical” by Keynes. Note that this belief is precisely what was resurrected by Lucas and the Chicago School, in their attack on Keynes.

This post covers about half of the Brian Ferguson article, which is about the “theoretical” context in which Keynes was writing. The second half is about the historical context, which we will cover in the next post. The homepage for this project is Keynes.

My author page on LinkedIn Index to my writings: AZPROJECTS. General Posts on Economics: Unlearning Economics. My personal webpage: Transforming Knowledge.

Concerns with social inclusion extend well beyond the purely economic account of justice, since economic inequality affects social cohesion and political stability. Moreover, economic inequality can have negative implications for economic growth and democratic institutions. As a welcome contribution to the literature on the subject, Eric Hobsbawm´s book,  Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism, fosters further reflection and discussion on the complexity of the interactions among individuals, society and nation states in the context of globalisation.

Hobsbawm analyses three intertwined themes: the challenges to the continuity of American imperialism, the role of the territorial states and the future of citizenship. Throughout the book, the author provides a detailed comparison between the US empire and the British one. The worldwide historian believes, in truth, that the British Empire could only teach one lesson: the rejection of the attempt to maintain an eroding global position by relying on politico-military force. Deeply critical of the current American project of lasting global imperial hegemony, unprecedented in history, Hobsbawm expresses his hostility to imperialism and particularly to the recent record of armed interventions aimed to give support to the continuity of the American empire in an era of growing global violence and disorder.

As a matter of fact, it is not possible to establish a clear distinction between the times of “war” and “peace” at the start of the new century. Looking back to the 20th century, there has been no global authority able to control or settle armed disputes since the end of the Cold War. Although the territorial states remain the only effective authority, they have lost their traditional monopoly of armed force. Although resisting to express opinions on the future, Hobsbawm affirms

“A tentative forecast: war in the twenty- first century is not likely to be as murderous as it was in the twentieth. But armed violence, creating disproportionate suffering and loss, will remain omnipresent and endemic – occasionally epidemic- in a large part of the world. The prospect of a century of peace is remote.”

In the context of a multifaceted analysis of globalization, Hobsbawm explores the contemporary threatens related to individual freedom, control on individuals and insecurity in social interrelations. According to him, the transformations of political violence and the “war against terror”, since September 2001, are expressions of the recent overall changes in society. At the beginning of the 21st century, public security requires special efforts since current political institutions do not cope with the main task to maintain  public order.

The challenges to overcome the contemporary scenario of instability and inequalities reveal that the world increasingly seems to require supranational solutions to supranational or transnational problems. Nevertheless, there is no global authority to assume these political decisions. Recalling Hobsbawm, “The only effective actors are states”.

Indeed, all these questions reflect issues of current power, politics and economics in a social context where democratic institutions are being threatened. The actuality of the debate is undeniable.

 

References

Eric Hobsbawm. Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism. London,  Abacus, 2007

Book Review, Eric Hobsbawm. Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism, wirtten by Gonçalves, J. R. B.  an Madi, M. A. C , published in the International Journal of Green Economics.

 

from Express Tribune: Nov 20, 2016
ozymandias

Ever since Ibn-e-Khaldun laid the foundations, the rise and fall of civilisations has been a favourite theme among historians. British Historian Arnold Toynbee, stated that Ibn-e-Khaldun’s Muqaddimahwas “a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created.” Since then, countless authors, including Toynbee, have written volumes presenting their theories about the rise and fall of nations. Just like human beings, nations too have life-cycles, passing from youth to maturity to old age and death. Among these authors, the analysis of sociologist Giovanni Arrighi appears especially pertinent today. Arrighi identifies systematic cycles of accumulation of wealth associated with different hegemonic centres of civilisation. These hegemons last for about a century and then collapse, leading to the emergence of a new hegemon. Arrighi forecast the collapse of the latest hegemon (the USA in the post-war period), and emergence of a new hegemony cantered on Asia and led by China. Given that the last four hegemons have been of European origin, this would be a radical shift. The election of Trump is just one among myriad manifest symptoms of a civilisation in decline. We may live to see the fulfilment of Arrighi’s predictions of the end of Western hegemony.

Toynbee, one of world’s most widely read, translated and discussed scholars, studied the rise and fall of 26 civilisations in his monumental multi-volume Study of History. The most recent and youngest among these is the Western civilisation that dominates the world today. As usual, Eurocentric historians have sung countless paeans to the never-ending list of the unique glories of the Western civilisation. A whole library of books attributes the rise of the West to the intelligence, character, race, scientific talents, creativity, imagination, work ethics, courage, as well as good governance, democracy, and other social and political virtues. Naturally, these Eurocentric accounts portray the East as the diametric opposite, lacking all of these virtues. The book Eight Eurocentric Historians by James Blaut debunks more than 30 such self-congratulatory explanations of the rise of Europe. The task of constructing a non-Eurocentric history remains the need of the time. In this essay, we offer an initial rough sketch.

Far from being unique, the rise of Europe repeats an age old pattern of young, energetic but poor and primitive tribes on the periphery, overcoming old decaying and rich civilisations. From a long term historical perspective, the past three centuries of European ascendance are just a flash in the pan. For comparison, Muslims ruled Andalus for more than six centuries, and created an extremely rich culture, based on tolerance for all religions and respect for all types of learning. In all dimensions of life, France was primitive compared to contemporary civilisations in China and the Islamic world. Charlemagne’s emissaries were dazzled by the splendour of Haroun al Rashid’s court, and the gifts they brought back were avidly imitated, and became models of Carolingian art.

Whereas civilisations over the globe in China, Persia, Turkey, India, Africa and Latin America had substantial amounts of peaceful contacts, with trade and transfer of knowledge, the European city-states were in a constant state of war with each other. These hostilities spilled over in the form of the crusades against their Muslim neighbours. The conquest of Jerusalem repeats the standard patterns of energetic, poor and primitive outsiders looting rich, luxurious and decadent centres of civilisation. When they took Jerusalem, the European victors indulged in a bloodbath, killing all men, women and children so that their horses were up to their knees in blood. In contrast, when Saladin took Jerusalem back, he provided ships to take European prisoners back to their home countries.

Historian Henri Pirenne noted that “Europe” was created by Islam; a collection of warring nations with different languages and cultures was ‘united’ only in their opposition to Islam. Despite these hostilities, Europeans were able to learn much from the advanced science, technology, and culture of the Muslims. However, an unfortunate outcome of this hostility was the complete suppression of the debt to the Muslims in European accounts. As Andalus lapsed into decadence and degeneration, the re-conquest of Islamic Spain handed to the Europeans a treasure trove of knowledge and technology far beyond their wildest imaginations. The Cordoba library was a wonder of the world, containing advanced knowledge of medicine, chemistry, physics, astronomy and mathematics from around the globe, and from all civilisations. However the Catholic Church created a huge barrier to deriving benefits from this treasure. They forced all remaining Muslims to convert to Christianity, on pain of torture and death, and created the Spanish Inquisition to root out all remnants of Islamic thought and philosophies. Borrowing from Islamic sources was considered heresy, and was a deadly offence. Among the many prosecuted for heresy, Alexander Scultetus was a close friend of Copernicus. Even though the heliocentric hypothesis of Copernicus is available from many previous sources, and his mathematical model is a carbon copy of one exposited by Ibn Shatir, Copernicus became known as a revolutionary because he could not openly acknowledge his tainted sources. A Byzantine Greek translation of Ibn Shatir’s work was available in the Vatican library, and Copernicus knew Greek. Many contemporaries of Copernicus were familiar with various Arabic astronomy texts; they imported them and read them directly from Arabic. Mercator was arrested by the Inquisition, and in grave danger of being tortured to death in a painful way. The famous “Mercator projection” was already used in Chinese star maps of the 10th century. The construction of Mercator’s map, critical to European navigation, needed precise trigonometric values—readily available from India. Fearful of the Inquisition, Mercator hid his pagan sources. Similarly, high officials of the church made other such “independent rediscoveries” by hiding their real sources.

This unfortunate concealment and suppression of sources of the European Enlightenment has had grave consequences. Knowledge apparently sprang full blown, like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, into Europe. Even careful historians like Max Weber were deceived into believing that Europeans were uniquely capable of rational and scientific thought. This myth about European knowledge is at the root of a thousand other myths we have swallowed as parts and parcels of a Eurocentric history.

More articles on this theme: Eurocentric History

PRELIMINARY REMARKS: Philosopher Hilary Putnam writes in “The Collapse of the Fact/Value Distinction” that there are cases where we can easily and clearly distinguish between facts and values — the objective and the subjective. However, it is wrong to think that we can ALWAYS do so. There are many sentences, especially in economic theories, where the two are “inextricably entangled” .

This is the fourth post in a sequence about Re-Reading Keynes. This post is focused on a single point which has been mentioned,  but perhaps not sufficiently emphasized earlier: the entanglement of the economic system with the economic theories about the system. Our purpose in reading Keynes is not directly to understand Keynesian theory — that is, to assess it as an economic theory in isolation, and whether or not it is valid and useful for contemporary affairs. Rather, we want to co-understand Keynesian theory and the historical context in which it was born. This is an exercise in the application of Polanyi’s methodology, which I described in excruciating detail in my paper published in WEA journal Economic Thought recently:

Asad Zaman (2016) ‘The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation.’ Economic Thought, 5.1, pp. 44-63.

I must confess that I am not very happy with the paper; I was struggling to formulate the ideas, and could not achieve the clarity that I always try for. It is a difficult read, though it expresses very important ideas — laying out the foundations for a radical new methodology which incorporates political, social and historical elements that have been discarded in conventional methodology for economics. One of the key elements of Polanyi’s methodology is the interaction between theories and history — our history generates our experiences of the world, and this experience in understood in the light of theories we generate to try to understand this experience. This obvious fact was ignored & lost due to the positivist fallacy that facts can be understood directly by themselves. The truth is that they can only be understood within the context of a (theoretical) framework. Once we use theories to understand experience, then these theories are used to shape our responses to this experience, and so these theories directly impact on history — history is shaped by theories, and theories are shaped by history. The two are “inextricably entangled.”

A key mistake of logical positivism is the attempt to separate the objective and the subjective — an idea that we have all swallowed in the course of our education. In fact reality is shaped by a complex interaction of the two. When we taste a fruit, the flavor is determined partly by the objective characteristics of the chemicals in the fruit, but also by the characteristics of the taste buds on our tongues, and ALSO by the interpretative apparatus within our brains which interprets the stimuli coming into the brains. To reduce this complex process to the external and objective characteristics of the fruit would be a great mistake. It is this mistake which is embodied in conventional economic methodology. Economists do not understand that they are very much a part of the economic system. How the economic system operates is STRONGLY influenced by the theories propounded by economists. The economy of communist Russia was created under the influence of Marxist theories, and cannot be understood without understanding Marxist theory. The operation of the US economy is strongly influenced by the dominant economic theories. Quantitative Easing, QE, is a brainchild of Bernanke, based on Friedman’s understanding of the Great Depression. QE has strongly affected economic conditions in the USA and throughout the globe. The observer cannot be detached from the system being observed.  Just taking this one methodological insight from Polanyi on board is sufficient to completely invalidate the current methodological approach used by economists.

I have a 45 minute video lecture on “The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation” which attempts to explain these methodological ideas in a more user-friendly way. This is linked below:

This 1000 word article is the third in a series of posts on Re-Reading Keynes. It traces the impact of Keynesian theories on the 20th century, as necessary background knowledge for a contextual and historically situated study of Keynes. It was published in Express Tribune on 4 Nov 2016.

The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) has created awareness of the great gap between academic models and reality. IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard said that modern DSGE macroeconomic models currently used for policy decisions are based on assumptions which are profoundly at odds with what we know about consumers and firms. More than seven different schools of macroeconomic thought contend with each other, without coming to agreement on any fundamental issue. This bears a striking resemblance to the post-Depression era when Keynes set out to resolve the “deep divergences of opinion between fellow economists which have for the time being almost destroyed the practical influence of economic theory.”

Likewise, today, the inability of mainstream economists to predict, understand, explain, or find remedies for the Global Financial Crisis, has deeply damaged the reputation of economists and economic theories. Recently, World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer stated that for more than three decades, macroeconomics has gone backwards. Since modern macroeconomics bears a strong resemblance to pre-Keynesian theories, Keynesian theories have fresh relevance, as described below.

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, economic misery was a major factor which led to the Russian Revolution and the rise of Hitler in Germany. Conventional economic theory held that market forces would automatically and quickly correct the temporary disequilibrium of high unemployment and low production in Europe and USA. Keynes argued that high unemployment could persist, and government interventions in the form of active monetary and fiscal policy were required to correct the economic problems. Many have suggested that Keynes rescued Capitalism by providing governments with rationale to intervene on behalf of the workers, thereby preventing socialist or communist revolutions. There is no doubt that strong and powerful labor movements in Europe and USA derived strength from the economic misery of the masses, and also took inspiration from the pro-labor and anti-capitalist theories of Marx. While it is hard to be sure whether Keynes saved capitalism, we can be very sure that Keynes and Keynesian theories were extremely influential in shaping the economic landscapes of the 20th Century.

Keynes actually met Roosevelt (FDR) to try to persuade him of the necessity of an aggressive fiscal policy and of running budget deficits, in order to lift the US economy out of recession. He was only partially successful. FDR, like nearly all political leaders as well as economists of the time, was convinced of the necessity of balancing budgets: this is the same ‘austerity’ being touted today as the cure for economic problems. Leading economists like Lionel Robinson and Friedrich Hayek argued in favor of austerity, and said that Keynesian remedies were dangerously wrong. They held the view that the Great Depression had been caused by excessively easy monetary policies in the pre-Depression period, and Keynesian interventions in the form of further easy monetary and fiscal policies would only prolong the agony.

FDR was not quite convinced by Keynes, but was politically savvy enough to announce that he would not balance the budget on the backs of the American people. Accordingly, he did go against his personal convictions, as well as his campaign promises of balancing the budget, which he believed to be a sound and necessary economic policy. Keynes felt that the economic policies of FDR were timid and hesitant, and prolonged the recession un-necessarily. In light of contemporary experience of the tremendously aggressive expansionary monetary policy in the post-GFC era, we can see that bolder steps by FDR would not have caused the harms that he was afraid of. In fact, after the economy recovered somewhat, FDR went back to conventional wisdom and started reducing budget deficits in 1936. This created a mini-recession which has been labelled the “Roosevelt Recession of 1937”. Duly chastened, FDR embraced Keynesian policies with greater conviction, and increased deficit spending right up to the second World War. It was the effectiveness of Keynesian policies that led even arch-enemy Friedman to state that “We are all Keynesians now,” though he later recanted. Indeed, he master-minded the Monetarist counter-revolution in the 1970’s which eventually led to a rejection of Keynesian insights, and a return to the pre-Keynesian ideas of austerity as a cure for recessions.  Forgetting the hard-learned lessons of Keynes led to a recurrence of problems very similar to those faced by Keynes in the form of GFC 2007.

Following the GFC, there has been a resurgence of interest in Keynes and Keynesian Theories. In the “Return of Depression Economics”, Krugman argued for the continuing relevance of Keynes, and stated that we could end the Great Recession immediately by implementing Keynesian policies.  China implemented Keynesian policies, and used a fiscal stimulus of $586 billion spread over two years, to successfully combat the global recession created by the GFC.  Unlike countries forced to implement austerity, which further wrecked their economies, the Chinese economy was able to perform well in the aftermath of the GFC. The Shanghai index had been falling sharply since the September 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, but the decline was halted when news of the planned stimulus leaked in late October. The day after the stimulus was officially announced, the Shanghai index immediately rose by 7.3%, followed by sustained growth. Speaking at the 2010 Summer Davos, Premier Wen Jiabao also credited the Keynesian fiscal stimulus for good performance of the Chinese economy over the two years following the GFC.

Meanwhile, even IMF acknowledged the failure of austerity, the anti-thesis of the Keynesian policy. Massive damage was caused to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and other economies which were forced to tighten budgets in response to the recession. In the see-saw battle between Keynesians and Monetarists, after three decades of darkness, the Keynesian star seems to be rising. Strange as it may seem, many fundamental insights of Keynes were never actually absorbed by conventional economists. Keynes himself said that he had the greatest difficulty in escaping the habits of thought created by an economics education. Mainstream economists never made this escape. As a result, Keynesian theories remain an undiscovered treasure offering deep insights into current economic conditions.

The website page has many links to related materials on L3: Impact of Keynes