Wednesday , October 21 2020
rosserjb@jmu.edu

Barkley Rosser

I remember how loud it was. I was a young Economics undergraduate, and most professors didn’t really slam points home the way Dr. Rosser did. He would bang on the table and throw things around the classroom. Not for the faint of heart, but he definitely kept my attention and made me smile. It is hard to not smile around J. Barkley Rosser, especially when he gets going on economic theory. The passion comes through and encourages you to come along with it in a truly contagious way. After meeting him, it is as if you can just tell that anybody who knows that much and has that much to say deserves your attention.

Articles by Barkley Rosser

The Period Of Short Term Memory

19 hours ago

The election is two weeks from today.  When I took an into psych course over half a century ago, I was taught in it that two weeks is the period of short term memory, the period in which we remember events with special salience.  I do not know if this is still the official view of the profession, but it has since then made sense to me: I seem to be able, even now, to remember what happened day by day for the previous two weeks.  Things before then are "in the past," although certainly some are salient and on my mind. But those that happened in the past two weeks are just that much more on my mind.With this in mind even four years ago when people asked me to forecast the election outcome I would drag this up and say "anything can happen in the last two weeks that can change it," and four

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Why Does MbS Want Hllary Clinton’s Emails?

6 days ago

In yesreday’s Washington Post David Ignatius reports in a column about serious efforts by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to get the infamous emails of Hillary Clinton publicized, something that President Trump also wants and SecState Pompeo has been promising while complaining about problems getting them out.  My guess is there is nothing in them not already known, but MbS has really been pushing on this.  Aside from trying to help his pal, Trump, what is up with this?Ignatius speculates that this is tied to a new effort to assert his dictatorial total power in Saudi Arabia by MbS, in particular against the man he removed and replaced as Crown Prince in a coup that was encouraged by the Trump administration. That man is Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who was much admired and

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Stealing Signs

7 days ago

I know this is a widespread basically trivial matter, but since I had posted earlier about all of the BLM signs on my block (including at our house) accompanied more recently by signs related to the various political races (we have a Senate race, as well as House, and city council here) on the block, where we had some apparently hostile drivebys some while ago.So last night somebody came and stole all the signs off our block that were not clearly for a GOP candidate in some race, with all the BLM signs going, including ours.  I really do not like the idea of somebody coming on my property and stealing something, even if it is just a political sign.  Oh well.Barkley Rosser

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In The Face Of Total Turbulence, Go Totally Conventional For The Nobel Prize

9 days ago

I have noted in various places that I could not make a forecast this year on the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel because of all the turbulence on so many fronts going on.  So it occurred to me that the committee might avoid political controversy by going technical, although I thought it more likely they would give it for something in econometrics. But this year’s award was clearlyi in the works after Jean Tirole and Alvin Roth got theirs.  The real question for this one was which of the "Gang of Four," David Kreps, Paul Milgrom, John Roberts, and Robert B. Wilson, who coauthored the super important game theory paper on reputation effects, allowing for cooperation over time in prisoner’s dilemma and other games, would get it. In the end it was

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When did Israel Become “America’s Best Ally”?

11 days ago

In the recent US Vice Presidential debate, the current US VP, Mike Pence dropped a throaway line that until nobody has noticed until now. He labeled Israel as America’s "best ally," or a term meaning the same thing.I think that from at least 1917 the "best ally" of the US was either Canada or UK. Under Trump both of those alliances were downgraded, although they were loyal to us for all that time.So now we have the supposedly new "best ally" (might be slightly different wording, but it means this), Israel.  Now I am much more for Israel than many on the left and elsewhere. I have long supported the two-state solution set in Oslo in 1992 or thereabouts. But the current admin throws that into a trash can.On June 8, 1967, Israel sank the USS Liberty, killing 34 American citizens, wounding

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“Papa Haydn” or “Papa Bach”

15 days ago

So a cultural diversion from all the current shouting.  Was it "Papa Haydn" or "Papa Bach"? And if the latter, which one, hint, probably not the more famous Johann Sebastian.So Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) gets called that as he largely invented the modern form of the string quartet and the symphony (of which he composed 104), starting in the late 1750s as he held positions with various aristocratic families, following a youth in which he suffered extreme poverty and serious malnutrition.  He also codified the sonata allegro form, which, would along with firmly establishing modern keys, would become the basis by the 1780s when he completed his musical form innovations the classical form of classical music, aided by his younger friend, W.A. Mozart (1756-1791), with whom he played string

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Is the Beady-Eyed Religious Fanatic A Major Superspreader Of The Pandemic?

18 days ago

It now appears that the Rose Garden ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 26, presenting SCOTUS candidate Amy Coney Barrett, who has the beadiest eyes I have ever seen on any human being in my life, has turned into a superspreader event of SARS-Cov2. Among those who may have become infected include the president and his wife, along with at least two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (Lee of UT and Tillis of NC), the president of Notre Dame University where Barrett was a law school prof, as well as others, with it likely more will be learned to have gotten it there.This is a low probability theory, but clearly there was probably a super spreader individual at this ceremony, one upfront apparently, given where those infected were sitting.  Apparently the SCOTUS candidate herself, she of the

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A Beady-Eyed Religious Fanatic For The Supreme Court

23 days ago

Others may not see what I see when I look at a full-face photo of Amy Conet Barrett, but I see someone who looks like a fanatic to me, although that may be me reading in what I have heard of her views on things, she being Trump’s nominee for the SCOTUS, with GOPsters in the Senate hypocritically ready to put her in there in time to help Trump steal the election.  I know we are not supposed to pick on people for their religious views, but she does belong to a weird cult, the Praise for People group, which is not strictly Catholic as many have claimed, but did come out of the Catholic Charismatic movement in 1971 with most of its members Catholic.  It accepts such things as speaking in tongues, which is not something generally accepted by most Catholics, generally something practices by

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The “Trump Effect” On Happiness

September 21, 2020

In a column in yesterday’s Washington Post, Dana Milbank has written on "Trump has made our lives worse. Here’s the proof."  He labels this apparent outcome the "Trump Effect."Since 1972 the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago has annually studied the nation’s mood. They survey people to find out how they identify their level of happiness. As of this summer an all time record low of 14% declared themselves "very happy." This compares with 29% saying that at the lowest point after the 2008 financial crisis. OTOH, fully 36% declared themselves to be "satisfied" with their financial situation and a record low expressed dissatisfaction, the survey taken at a time when expanded unemployment benefits were still in effect.  But Milbank declared that this

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The Danger Of Fascism With The Death Of RBG

September 19, 2020

I try to avoid these terms like "fascism," but it has become clear that Donald J. Trump actively seeks to become an at least authoritarian leader of the US, indeed openly arguing that the Constitution’s limit of only two terms should not hold for him.  We face a clear danger of a contested election that may end up in the Supreme Court. If Trump can put a flunky into the court before the election we may have them putting him in despite a situation where he has clearly lost. And given his recent behavior, backed by a friendly SCOTUS, he would be in position to impose a fascist dictatorship in this nation.I also note that she died on Rosh Hoshanah, and in the Jewish tradition this is a portentious time to die, with one doing so being especially blessed.  I do not know how all this will turn

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Au Revoir, Robert J. Samuelson

September 15, 2020

For quite a few years not so long ago I was regularly posting here variations on "Today is Monday, so on the WaPo editorial page Robert J. (not related to Paul A.)* Samuelson is calling yet again for Social Security benefits to be cut," and he did indeed do that very frequently over a long time.  However, today was his final column for the Washington Post, so we shall no longer have RJS to kick around, sob! It was titled, "Goodbye, readers, and good luck – you’ll need it."  There is also a letter to the editor from former publisher, Donald Graham, praising RJS and reminiscing knowing him as a freshman in 1962 at Harvard.  Graham noted RJS eschewed a nominal non-partisan position and studied and thought hard about his columns, even as Graham himself disagrees with some of RJS’s long held

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The Bahrain-Israel Mutual Recognition

September 12, 2020

This freshly announced mutual recognition follows the one between the UAE and Israel, which set a new pattern, with Bahrain and possibly others (Oman?) predicted to follow.  I am not surprised it was Bahrain that was next, although it may prove to be the only one.  There are several reasons why it was most likely to be next, and why we might not see Oman join in, although that cannot be ruled out.I see three reasons why Bahrain was most likely to be next, although there are really two fundamental ones with the third arising from those.  The most fundamental one is that of the 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), now largely in shatters due to the sanctions on one of them (Qatar) by several others (Saudi Arabia (KSA), UAE, and Bahrain), is the only one where a Sunni minority

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How Bif Of a “Hoax” Is That “Dirty Dossier”?

September 6, 2020

In the wake of the Atlantic story by Jeffrey Goldberg about President Trump reportedly referring to the dead Americans lying in the Aisne-Marne Cemetery near Paris as "losers"  and "suckers," along with a lot of other embarrassing things for him, Trump has called Goldberg a "slimeball" and that that this report is another "hoax" like "the dirty dossier" of Steele, along with "Russia, Russia, Russia" also being a "hoax," of course, despite the recent bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report further verifying that there was even more Russian interference in the 2016 election than the Mueller Report verified (105 meetings between Trump campaign officials and various Russians, with several of those officials then lying under oath about their contacts).  Of course, Trump is on tape

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Should We Fear A Reappearance Of Inflation?

September 1, 2020

In today’s Washington Post Robert J. Samuelson has raised the possibility that the Federal Reserve may be setting the US up for a reappearance of inflation.  He invoked the 1960s and 1970s when supposedly the Fed allowed inflation to get out of control out of a supposedly misguided effort to bring down unemployment by allowing successive small increases in inflation. Supposedly the newly released report on changed Fed policies may be taking us back to those bad old days, even though for now RJS admits that inflation is low, with expectations of inflation only at 1.34%.  How worried should we be?OK, I am not going to say that a resurgence of inflation is impossible.  I can imagine it possibly resurging, with such a development perhaps being associated with a sharp decline of the US

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Assar Lindbeck Passes On

August 31, 2020

Assar Lindbeck died on Aug. 28 at the age of 90, probably the most influential Swedish economist of the latter part of the 20th century.  He was the main driving force behind getting the Swedish central bank at the end of the 1960s to establish the Sveriges Riksbank Award in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, a.k.a., the "Nobel Prize in Economics" (I get increasingly tired of the usual retreads who every fall remind us when the media refers to it by the second name that it "really" should be called by the official first name; we all know this by now). He was a professor at Stockholm University, longtime director of the International Institute for Economic Affairs, and in 1992-93 chaired the "Lindeck Commission," which laid out policy proposal for scaling back the Swedish

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There Will Be No Postponing Social Security Taxes

August 31, 2020

Among the items that President Trump issued an "executive action" about three weeks ago was that for people earning less than around $104.000 per year, their fica taxes were to be postponed until Jan. 1, not cut, merely postponed, although Trump made noises that if he is reelected he will simply eliminate the fica tax entirely, although unclear how he plans to fund Social Security without it.  Anyway, Allan Sloan in the Washington Post reports that this initiative is now just completely dead in the water.  It has too many problems, too many opponents, and action on implementing it in the Treasury Department has simply stalled out, almost certainly for good due to all this.  Quite aside from people facing potentially huge fica tax bills in January due to four months of postponement, it

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An Increasing Anomaly In The US Balance Of Payments

August 31, 2020

On Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has posted about an increase in the scale of US international net indebtedenss. Since the late 1980s the US has been a net debtor internationally, borrowing more from abroad then we are lending and investing there.  The increase in this net indebtedness has noticeably accelerated since our current POTUS took office, and especially this year.  The size of that net indebtedness has gone from about 40% of US GDP to somewhat more than 55%, a pretty substantial increase, given that we have been in this condition for over three decades and in three years by more than a third.  The fiscal stimulus of this year has definitely been overwhelmingly financed by foreign borrowing.This increase in net indebtedness highlights a longstanding anomaly that now looks even more

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Remembering The Bombing Of Sterling Hall A Half Century Ago

August 24, 2020

A half century ago at 3:42 AM on Monday, August 24, 1970, the New Year’s Gang set off an ammonium nitrate bomb in the back of a Ford pickup track next to Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  They were aiming it at the Army Mathematics Research Center, then directed by my later father, J. Barkley Rosser [Sr.]. However, they were notoriously the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight and hit the physics department instead, killing a physics post-doc, Robert Fassnacht, and injuring several other people, as well damaging buildings even blocks away, aside from the major damage to Sterling Hall itself.  Of the gang, three would eventually be apprehended and serve time in jail: the two Armstrong brothers from the east side of Madison, sons of an Oscar Mayer plant worker,

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Whining About Lack Of Academic Leadership

August 21, 2020

At my so-called university named for the fourth president, the slaveowning "Father of the Constitution."  No, I am not going to talk about the racism issue, which there is some effort to deal with on campus, notably in renaming three buildings named for Confederate figures, with our Provost originally from South Africa speaking reasonably intelligently about that issue.No, we had our annual general faculty meeting to begin the year, classes supposedly beginning on Wednesday, supposedly a mixture of live and online, although likely to go totally online any minute as Eastern Mennonite University also in Harrisonburg just went totally online and delayed student move-in due to an outbreak of the virus, and Facebook is full of photos of our students partying without masks and packed together

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Kamala Harris Also Has An Economist Uncle

August 20, 2020

Who I happen to know and who got his PhD in economics and computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He is now being identified in the media as Gopalan Balachandron, which puts his last name first.  I knew him as a grad student when Kamala’s dad, Don Harris, was on the UW faculty, and he was "Bala Gopalan" to all of us, a very witty and cosmopolitan guy.  When I saw him on the news, now 80 years old and living in Delhi and praising the selection of Kamala as Dem VP candidate, I was not sure it was him, but quick checking established it is.  I finally also remembered somebody bringing it up that he was Don’s brother-in-law, only two years older than him, but he did not want to talk about it, this being when the marriage of Don and Bala’s sister was going down the

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The UAE-Israel Deal

August 19, 2020

Several days ago the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have agreed to have diplomatic relations, with this being the third Arab nation to officially recognize Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. President Trump and his supporters are claiming that this is a great breakthrough to world peace, with Jared Kushner supposedly the key player on the American side.  But most observers think that this is an exaggeration, to put it mildly.  The standard summary is that this deal is a win-win-win-lose: a win for the US, UAE, and Israel, but a lose for the Palestinians.Let me give the Trump people, including even the usually incompetent Jared Kushner, some credit.  They have managed to achieve only a handful of international agreements.  And given the long and difficult

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The End Of Special Fiscal Stimulus

August 15, 2020

A week ago a two week long negotiation between Dem Congresspeople, Nancy Pelosi from the House and Chuck Schumer from the Senate and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who cut deals with Pelosi and Schumer three times earlier this year, but now Trump’s Chief of Staff, former Freedom Caucus leader in the House, Mark Meadows, notorious for only destroying deals and never making any. And in this case all the reporting is that a week ago he "blew up" the negotiations, taking a hard line on orders from Trump. So, where are we at now?For starters yesterday the Senate adjourned until after Labor Day. So, the market expectations that a deal will be cut soon are a joke. There will be no deal anytime soon, and maybe never. Many things have run out, whose impact has not fully arrived: end of extra

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Donald J. Harris And His Daughter Kamala Harris

August 12, 2020

Now the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States, a historic pick, no matter what one thinks of her, and I know quite a few people on the left and Dems more generally who are not fans of hers, although many observers think she may be the strongest VP candidate for Biden to beat Trump and Pence, and I am looking forward to her tearing current VP Pence to shreds in their debate.Anyway, as I have noted a few times before here, I have come to realize how old I am because I know parents of people running for president, and one of those happens to be the father of the now-selected Dem VP nominee, Kamala Harris, who was running for prez before she strategically pulled out early back in January, now an obviously smart move (and I do think she is plenty smart, whatever else

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“Executive Oder” Versus “Executive Action” Such As A Memorandum

August 9, 2020

Most o the  news media has reported that President Donald J. Trump has signed four "executive orders" involving extending unemployment benefits at a $400 rate, deferring (or ending?) payroll taxes for Social Security (opposed by both parties in Congress), extending a ban on evicting renters, and extending student loan deferments.  An important detail not mentioned in most reports that of these three of them are not actual orders but rather memoranda, which can count as "acrtions," that essentially implore others to do something that requires Congressional action in order to be done, basically the first two of these, or is already happening (deferment of student loans, although this is complicated).  Only one of them is an actual order that must be followed, the one regarding evicting

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Interpol Supports Murder Charge Against MbS

August 8, 2020

In today’s Washington Post David Ignatius reports that Interpol refused a request from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to extradite Saad Aljabri to Saudi Arabia from Canada in 2017. MbS had been trying to entice Aljabri to return and had arrested his children, who remain arrested despite complaints from the US government and basically the entire rest of the world. Aljabri was the top aide of MbS’s rival, the former Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who was overthrown by MbS in a coup. Aljabri and MbN were highly regarded by officials in the US of several administrations, as well as orther governments, and apparently was personally responsible for blocking a serious possible terrorist attack in the US.  After Interpol refused to extradite Aljabri from Toronto, MbS sent

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The Disaster That Lebanon Has Become

August 6, 2020

It is now on the front pages with a massive explosion of over 2000 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse near Beirut’s port, with over 100 dead and thousands injured and possibly more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.  Juan Cole reports that this had been dangerously sitting there since 2013, when it was moved off the Moldavan Rhosus, where it was apparently unsafely loaded after having been on its way to make fertilizer in Mozambique. But thanks to entrenched corruption and dysfunction in the Lebanese government nothing was done with it while the freighter has sat in the harbor.   Now it has exploded.Just to add to the trouble, President Trump claimed that some people at the Pentagon had told him that this was a bomb, and that Lebanon was under attack by somebody.  Juan Cole

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How To Measure Quarterly Changes In GDP Can Make A Big Difference

August 4, 2020

We have had dramatic headlines and commentary in recent days since the BEA issued its initial estimate of quarterly changes in GDP, which they do not officially measure on an shorter time period. This is a measure of the average GDP in one quarter compared to the average GDP in the next quarter.  Looking at Q1 of this year and Q2 of this year, they reported the largest quarterly decline ever recorded, -32.9% on an annualized rate, about -9.5% on a quarterly rate. This is a sharper decline than seen either for any pair of quarters in the Great Depression or the immediate post-WW II demobilization, much less such later events as the Great Recession of 2007-09.  Of course this generated big headlines and much breathless commentary, including quite a few commentators who did not get it that

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Is The Latest Apparent Economist Suicide A Sign “Economics Is A Disaster”?

August 2, 2020

On July 23, 41-year-old Emmanuel Farhi, Professor of Economics at Harvard, a native of France with Egyptian Jewish ancestry, "unexpectedly" died a few hours after having a Zoom conference on how economics and economists can help the world (or something like that) with fellow Frenchmen, Nobelist Jean Tirole and former IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard.  No one has officially given a cause of death, but the entire internet has decided that it was a suicide, with a long thread with over 800 comments going on the infamous Economics Job Market Rumors (ejmr) about it with scads of speculation about it. On July 29, Claudia Sahm, formerly a Division Chief at Fed Board of Governors and now at Center for Equitable Growth, published a long post on her EconoMom blog called "Economics is a

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Goodbye To The Last True Georgist Economist: Mason Gaffney

July 29, 2020

Mason ("Mase") Gaffney died on July 26 in Redlands, CA of Covid-19 at age 96.  He was both a great guy as well as arguably what the title to this says: "the last true Georgist economist," with such economists being followers of Henry George, whose 1878 book, Progress and Poverty, was the best-selling book on economics in the US during the 19th century.  George was a journalist who ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York.  His book, drawing on influences from Quesnay and Ricardo, advocated that there be a single ("site") tax on land, replacing other taxes.  Advocates of this view, such as Mase, argued that it brought about an economy that was both equitable and efficient.Gaffney became a follower of Henry George in 1940 in his senior year of high school, when he read Progress and

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Managing A Zoom Conference

July 26, 2020

As of the end of this week I completed chairing the 30th annual international conference of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology and Life Sciences, with 54 participants from around the world.  It basically went well, and it was kind of cool to make introductory remarks at 8 AM during EDT, with somebody on at 6 AM their time in Montana and someone else on at 10 PM their time in Sydney, Australia.  It can be done, and even with parallel sessions happening.Of course there were the usual snafus of people getting bad internet connections and disappearing or becoming mute while presenting, which does not happen in live sessions.  There were also some people who failed to present due to not being able to properly load or manage their slides or videos, although I have seen problems with

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