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Articles by Sandwichman

Four Days On, Ten Days Off

9 days ago

A very interesting paper (not peer-reviewed) by a team of Israeli scholars proposes that a more manageable exit from pandemic lockdown might be achieved by implementing a scheme in which employees go in to work for four days and then return to isolation for ten days before repeating the cycle. A variation on the proposal would have two staggered relays of workers cycling through the 14 day routine.
The research has been popularized in a New York Times op-ed and a Fast Company feature, so I would bother to discuss it here in detail. Not being an epidemiologist, I can’t vouch for the authors’ assumptions about average infectiousness. Obviously, implementing such a scheme out of the blue would present formidable challenges even assuming competent political

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Four Days On, Ten Days Off

9 days ago

A very interesting paper (not peer-reviewed) by a team of Israeli scholars proposes that a more manageable exit from pandemic lockdown might be achieved by implementing a scheme in which employees go in to work for four days and then return to isolation for ten days before repeating the cycle. A variation on the proposal would have two staggered relays of workers cycling through the 14 day routine.The research has been popularized in a New York Times op-ed and a Fast Company feature, so I would bother to discuss it here in detail. Not being an epidemiologist, I can’t vouch for the authors’ assumptions about average infectiousness. Obviously, implementing such a scheme out of the blue would present formidable challenges even assuming competent political leadership.

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Stairway to Serfdom

April 20, 2020

I posted the above chart four days ago in "From Social Distance to Social Justice" to illustrate Arthur Dahlberg’s argument about the eventual consequences of a declining labor share of income. Dahlberg was inspired by Stephen Leacock’s The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and both Leacock and Dahlberg were influenced by Thorsten Veblen.

The chart also illuminates arguments made by Moishe Postone about Marx’s theory of capitalist production. I happen to agree substantially with Postone’s interpretation of Marx even though I find his presentation repetitive and difficult to follow. That is, I think I agree with what I think he was trying to say in Time, Labor and Social Domination. 

What the chart shows is that in spite of a more than threefold increase in productivity over

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From Social Distance to Social Justice: An Unsolved Riddle

April 15, 2020

In the last two weeks of March and the first week of April, 2020 16.5 million new claims for unemployment were filed in the U.S. After the novel coronavirus is successfully contained some but not all of those jobs will return. The post-pandemic economy will not be the same as the economy before and to assume a return to business-as-usual economic growth would be folly.
There will need to be immediate share-the-work policies along with basic income guarantees. These must be viewed not as temporary measures to be abandoned as soon as “normality” returns but as transitional steps toward an entirely new regime of work, income and common wealth. Addressing climate change has momentarily taken a back seat to the urgent immediacy of the pandemic. But the

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From Social Distance to Social Justice: An Unsolved Riddle

April 15, 2020

In the last two weeks of March and the first week of April, 2020 16.5 million new claims for unemployment were filed in the U.S. After the novel coronavirus is successfully contained some but not all of those jobs will return. The post-pandemic economy will not be the same as the economy before and to assume a return to business-as-usual economic growth would be folly.There will need to be immediate share-the-work policies along with basic income guarantees. These must be viewed not as temporary measures to be abandoned as soon as "normality" returns but as transitional steps toward an entirely new regime of work, income and common wealth. Addressing climate change has momentarily taken a back seat to the urgent immediacy of the pandemic. But the irreversible long-term consequences of

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Pandemic Panorama

April 13, 2020

"The helpless fixation on notions of security and property deriving from past decades keeps the average citizen from perceiving the quite remarkable stabilities of an entirely new kind that underlie the present situation." — Walter Benjamin
Vor Dem Maskenball (with updates) — Max Beckmann, 1922
The contemporary relevance of the section titled "Imperial Panorama: A Tour of German Inflation" from Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street never ceases to astonish me. Yesterday I finally understood what Benjamin meant by "German inflation." I had mistaken it for the name of an event, like "Great Depression" or "World War I" that referred to a monetary phenomenon in the Friedmanite sense of "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." I had attributed to it an ironic, metaphorical

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The Hammer and the Dance

March 21, 2020

Ordinarily, I would give some sort of summary of the Big Idea I am referencing. In this case, I will link to the essay, Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time, by Tomas Pueyo and say you must read it to get what I am talking about. O.K., in simplest terms, Pueyo outlines what is likely to happen with a do-nothing strategy, a mitigation strategy and a third strategy that he calls the "hammer and the dance."Long story short: mitigation won’t cut it.This calls for a climate change paradigm check. The discourse has been all about mitigation for three decades and here we are in 2020 emitting — up to a moment ago — more carbon dioxide than ever. Here’s the good news: our response to Covid-19 is going to cut our carbon dioxide

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How Low Can You Go?

March 11, 2020

This is not a prediction. Only an observation. From 1952 to 1996, U.S. nominal net worth of households and non-profits tracked nominal GDP pretty closely. Net worth remained pretty close to 15 times GDP. That consistent relationship ended after 1997. In the third quarter of 2007, net worth was nearly 20 times GDP but by the second quarter of 2009 it had reverted to just 17 times GDP. One might argue that it was roughly 15 times what trend GDP would have been at that time.
In the second quarter of 2019, net worth was 21 times GDP  or about 28% above the historical norm from 1952 to 1996. To revert to that historical norm would entail a loss of asset valuation of around $32 trillion.

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How Low Can You Go?

March 11, 2020

This is not a prediction. Only an observation. From 1952 to 1996, U.S. nominal net worth of households and non-profits tracked nominal GDP pretty closely. Net worth remained pretty close to 15 times GDP. That consistent relationship ended after 1997. In the third quarter of 2007, net worth was nearly 20 times GDP but by the second quarter of 2009 it had reverted to just 17 times GDP. One might argue that it was roughly 15 times what trend GDP would have been at that time.In the second quarter of 2019, net worth was 21 times GDP  or about 28% above the historical norm from 1952 to 1996. To revert to that historical norm would entail a loss of asset valuation of around $32 trillion.

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A “Wild and Dangerous” Scheme, Part Two: What’s “fixed” got to do with it? Do with it?

March 7, 2020

“…we have seen a calculation… which shows that the fixed charges, for machinery and the general management of a mill, are as nearly as possible equal to the cost of wages in the process.”
In my earlier post on the “Wild and Dangerous Scheme” I teased the “egregious accounting error” committed by the author of the 1844 article in the Economist. In plain terms the error was double counting — the author deducts 16.5% from wages to compensate for a decrease in output and then attributes a second loss of 16.5% to the decrease in output resulting from it’s effect on “fixed charges.”
That double-counting error seems self-evident to me but there is also a semantic smoke screen at play that obscures it for some readers. The term “fixed charges” seems to refer to an

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A “Wild and Dangerous” Scheme, Part Two: What’s “fixed” got to do with it? Do with it?

March 7, 2020

“…we have seen a calculation… which shows that the fixed charges, for machinery and the general management of a mill, are as nearly as possible equal to the cost of wages in the process.”
In my earlier post on the "Wild and Dangerous Scheme" I teased the "egregious accounting error" committed by the author of the 1844 article in the Economist. In plain terms the error was double counting — the author deducts 16.5% from wages to compensate for a decrease in output and then attributes a second loss of 16.5% to the decrease in output resulting from it’s effect on "fixed charges."That double-counting error seems self-evident to me but there is also a semantic smoke screen at play that obscures it for some readers. The term "fixed charges" seems to refer to an immutable absolute quantity of

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A “Wild and Dangerous” Scheme!

March 4, 2020

“…a scheme at once wild and dangerous.”
“…a trick, too, of the clumsiest description…”
I was hunting for the exact location of “Prince’s Tavern” in Manchester in 1833 when I stumbled upon an Economist article from March 30, 1844 addressing the “practical consequences” of  reducing the length of the factory working day from 12 hours to 10. I am always fascinating by the profound and enduring hostility of a faction of employers — amplified by their mouthpieces in academia and the press — to the reduction of working time. I’m amazed how often their bile and zeal leads them to compound the error of biased, unfounded assumptions with boneheaded accounting mistakes. There is nothing so edifying as the sharp-eyed calculation of a businessman who has naught but

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A “Wild and Dangerous” Scheme!

March 4, 2020

"…a scheme at once wild and dangerous."
"…a trick, too, of the clumsiest description…"
I was hunting for the exact location of "Prince’s Tavern" in Manchester in 1833 when I stumbled upon an Economist article from March 30, 1844 addressing the "practical consequences" of  reducing the length of the factory working day from 12 hours to 10. I am always fascinating by the profound and enduring hostility of a faction of employers — amplified by their mouthpieces in academia and the press — to the reduction of working time. I’m amazed how often their bile and zeal leads them to compound the error of biased, unfounded assumptions with boneheaded accounting mistakes. There is nothing so edifying as the sharp-eyed calculation of a businessman who has naught but the most important boon

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Standing on the shoulders of cranks

February 17, 2020

Standing on the shoulders of cranks

I use the term “crank” affectionately. The figure below is a valiant effort by Arthur O. Dahlberg to depict the “socio-economic process” as a network of troughs, pipes and valves. Even this elaborate contraption is confined to “the movement of the major social variables.”

Dahlberg believed that his chart technique communicated his analysis more effectively than words could. What the chart communicates to me, besides Dahlberg’s intense commitment is “it’s complicated” and “everything is connected to everything else.” That’s not nothing.

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Standing on the shoulders of cranks

February 16, 2020

I use the term "crank" affectionately. The figure below is a valiant effort by Arthur O. Dahlberg to depict the "socio-economic process" as a network of troughs, pipes and valves. Even this elaborate contraption is confined to "the movement of the major social variables."

Dahlberg believed that his chart technique communicated his analysis more effectively than words could. What the chart communicates to me, besides Dahlberg’s intense commitment is "it’s complicated" and "everything is connected to everything else." That’s not nothing.

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Art Dahlberg or Rube Goldberg?

January 30, 2020

One of the endearing features of Arthur Dahlberg’s Job, Machines and Capitalism was its incorporation of an elaborate diagram that illustrated his argument about technology, unemployment, war and shorter working time. A Rube Goldberg machine is a comically complicated contraption designed to perform a simple task. Goldberg began drawing his cartoon machines in 1914 and continued until 1964.A Rube Goldberg Cartoon
The economic relationships Dahlberg tried to explain are indeed extraordinarily complex. It is doubtful that his diagrams helped readers to understand them — unless the point Dahlberg was trying to make was that the relationships were extraordinarily complex. It should be noted that economists A.W. Phillips (Phillips Curve) and Irving Fisher both also constructed elaborate

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War, Peace and the End of Shorter Hours

January 26, 2020

In his preface to Jobs, Machines and Capitalism, Arthur Dahlberg explained that the economic views upon which his book was based were inspired by his reading of Stephen Leacock’s The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. The latter book’s inspiration can be summarized in the sentence, "The economics of war, therefore, has thrown its lurid light upon the economics of peace."

Contrary to Frank Knight’s dismissive arm-waving about bibliographies and footnotes, Dahlberg did in fact cite two economics textbooks along with contemporary economists such as Leacock, Wesley Mitchell, Thorstein Veblen and John R. Commons. One may infer from the sarcastic comment at the end of his review that Knight failed to grasp Dahlberg’s (and Leacock’s, Mitchell’s, Commons’s and Veblen’s) point that the

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“What is the Most Useful Idea in Economics?”

January 19, 2020

NPR’s Planet Money went to the 2020 American Economic Association conference in San Diego where they asked economists, “what is the most useful idea in economics?” David Autor appears near the end of the episode (minute 16:00) to talk about the lump-of-labor fallacy. Almost exactly 87 years earlier, on January 18, 1933, Arthur Dahlberg appeared before a Senate subcommittee to give testimony on the thirty-hour work week bill. The lump-of-labor fallacy would be a useful idea indeed if it would show economists how little they have learned and how much they have forgotten in the intervening 87 years.
In his Planet Money interview, Autor rehearses the standard refrain about there not being a “finite” amount of work to be done so we are not in danger of running

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“What is the Most Useful Idea in Economics?”

January 19, 2020

NPR’s Planet Money went to the 2020 American Economic Association conference in San Diego where they asked economists, "what is the most useful idea in economics?" David Autor appears near the end of the episode (minute 16:00) to talk about the lump-of-labor fallacy. Almost exactly 87 years earlier, on January 18, 1933, Arthur Dahlberg appeared before a Senate subcommittee to give testimony on the thirty-hour work week bill. The lump-of-labor fallacy would be a useful idea indeed if it would show economists how little they have learned and how much they have forgotten in the intervening 87 years.In his Planet Money interview, Autor rehearses the standard refrain about there not being a "finite" amount of work to be done so we are not in danger of running out of jobs. Then he introduces

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2020 Hindsight: Why the world is not zero-sum

January 1, 2020

According to a report, Global Waves of Debt, pre-published by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development:
Waves of debt accumulation have been a recurrent feature of the global economy over the past fifty years. In emerging and developing countries, there have been four major debt waves since 1970. The first three waves ended in financial crises—the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the Asia financial crisis of the late 1990s, and the global financial crisis of 2007-2009.
A fourth wave of debt began in 2010 and debt has reached $55 trillion in 2018, making it the largest, broadest and fastest growing of the four. While debt financing can help meet urgent development needs such as basic infrastructure, much of the current debt wave is

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2020 Hindsight: Why the world is not zero-sum

January 1, 2020

According to a report, Global Waves of Debt, pre-published by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development:
Waves of debt accumulation have been a recurrent feature of the global economy over the past fifty years. In emerging and developing countries, there have been four major debt waves since 1970. The first three waves ended in financial crises—the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s, the Asia financial crisis of the late 1990s, and the global financial crisis of 2007-2009.  

A fourth wave of debt began in 2010 and debt has reached $55 trillion in 2018, making it the largest, broadest and fastest growing of the four. While debt financing can help meet urgent development needs such as basic infrastructure, much of the current debt wave is taking riskier forms.

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What quid did the president quo and when did he quo it?

November 17, 2019

What quid did the president quo and when did he quo it?

Aside from the headline news about a July 26 phone call, I learned four big things from the impeachment inquiry hearing this morning. First, the specific corruption surrounding Burisma Holidings had to do with self dealing by company founder Mykola Vladislavovich Zlochevsky — issuing oil and gas licences to his own company when he was Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources. In other words, Zlochevsky did exactly what Donald J. Trump attempted to do with his Doral Golf Club and the G7 summit.
The second thing I learned is that President Trump was nursing a grudge against Ukraine because some Ukrainian politicians said some nasty things about him after he made a comment about letting Russia have

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“Are Robots Stealing Your Job?” is the Wrong Question

November 15, 2019

Andrew Yang says, “Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job” in an op-ed at the New York Times. Paul Krugman thinks they’re not and advises, “Democrats, Avoid the Robot Rabbit Hole.” This is, of course, a classic case of asking the wrong question.
The real question is: will robots burn down your house and kill your grandchildren? Let’s imagine that all those self-driving trucks and the computers needed to guide them will run on electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Will the robots in the truck factories and the robots in the computer factories also run on wind and sunshine? How about the robots in the wind turbine factories and the solar panel factories and so one ad infinitum? I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…
Let’s assume that it is

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“Are Robots Stealing Your Job?” is the Wrong Question

November 15, 2019

Andrew Yang says, "Yes, Robots Are Stealing Your Job" in an op-ed at the New York Times. Paul Krugman thinks they’re not and advises, "Democrats, Avoid the Robot Rabbit Hole." This is, of course, a classic case of asking the wrong question.The real question is: will robots burn down your house and kill your grandchildren? Let’s imagine that all those self-driving trucks and the computers needed to guide them will run on electricity generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Will the robots in the truck factories and the robots in the computer factories also run on wind and sunshine? How about the robots in the wind turbine factories and the solar panel factories and so one ad infinitum? I know an old lady who swallowed a fly…Let’s assume that it is feasible to phase out all current

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What quid did the president quo and when did he quo it?

November 13, 2019

Aside from the headline news about a July 26 phone call, I learned four big things from the impeachment inquiry hearing this morning. First, the specific corruption surrounding Burisma Holidings had to do with self dealing by company founder Mykola Vladislavovich Zlochevsky — issuing oil and gas licences to his own company when he was Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources. In other words, Zlochevsky did exactly what Donald J. Trump attempted to do with his Doral Golf Club and the G7 summit.The second thing I learned is that President Trump was nursing a grudge against Ukraine because some Ukrainian politicians said some nasty things about him after he made a comment about letting Russia have Crimea. That’s why he felt Ukraine "owed" him. The third thing is that the Ukraine shit made

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The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts

September 3, 2019

The Hurricane/Picture of Dorian Gray: A Perfect Moral Storm in Three Texts

Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital:
The temporal aspect is particularly striking,’ writes philosopher Stephen Gardiner, who has done perhaps more than anyone to foreground it, in A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change: it catches us in a bind. Given that global warming is ‘seriously backloaded’ (every moment experiencing a higher temperature posted from the past) and ‘substantially deferred’ (the cumulative effects of current emissions arriving in the future), a warped ethical structure arises. The person who harms others by burning fossil fuels cannot even potentially encounter his victims, because they do not yet exist. Living in the here and now, he reaps all

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