Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Most Dangerous Woman in America.

"How can I adopt a creed [i.e. Marxism] which, preferring the mud [i.e. you and yours] to the fish, exalts the boorish proletariat above the bourgeois and the intelligentsia who, with whatever faults, are the quality in life and surely carry the seeds of all human advancement?" (J.M. Keynes, "A Short View of Russia", 1925. My emphasis.)

Mary (Mother) Harris Jones is but one example of those the "bourgeois and the intelligentsia" so despise, hate, and fear.

Mother Jones. [A]


How did a lonely migrant woman, with little wealth or education, become "the most dangerous woman in America", as the West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard, called her in 1902?

I cannot speak for Blizzard, but one thing is for sure: her fearsome reputation didn't come from being the sinister conspirator of bourgeois nightmare. Nobody, not even her opponents, ever claimed she had anything to do with the Elders of Zion, the Illuminati, reptilian aliens, or other night frights of rich people's feverish imagination.

Reading Lance Selfa I came with an answer. Trotsky -- whom Selfa quotes -- compares Jones with another American left-wing icon, Emma Goldman:
"Lying in the open air, I looked through a collection of articles by the anarchist Emma Goldman with a short accompanying biography, and am now reading the autobiography of 'Mother Jones.' They both came from the ranks of American working women. But what a difference! Goldman is an individualist, with a small 'heroic' philosophy concocted from the ideas of Kropotkin, Nietzsche and Ibsen. Jones is a heroic American proletarian, without doubts or rhetoric, but also without a philosophy. Goldman sets herself revolutionary aims, but tries to achieve them by completely unrevolutionary means. Mother Jones always sets herself the most moderate aims: more pay and less hours, and tries to achieve them both by bold and revolutionary means. They both reflect America, each in her own way: Goldman by her primitive rationalism, Jones by her no less primitive empiricism. But Jones represents a splendid landmark in the history of her class, while Goldman signifies a departure from her class into individualistic non-existence. I could not stomach the Goldman articles: lifeless moralizing which smacks of rhetoric, despite all its sincerity. I am reading the Jones autobiography with delight." (My emphasis. See here)
Mother Jones' didn't call for revolution, violent or otherwise, or the abolition of the property of the means of production. That's not why she was "dangerous". What she did do was equally outrageous and unforgivable, from the point of view of the powerful: she sided, not in words only, but in actions, with the "mud", the miners and seamstresses, her adopted children. She gave them voice and made them visible.

To side with the "boorish proletariat" is more than enough to make of you a dangerous person to be ridiculed, whose ideas must be opposed out of hand, if not deliberately misrepresented. And if you are "the bourgeois and the intelligentsia" why wouldn't you do that? Isn't the right to humiliate, oppress, deceive, and exploit your natural right?

Image Credits:
[A] "Mother Jones, American labour activist (04/11/1902)". Author: Bertha Howell. This media file is in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.

Monday, August 25, 2014

You Asked for Institutions.


A few days ago, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson published a critique ("The Rise and Fall of General Laws of Capitalism") of Thomas Piketty's book "Capital in the Twenty First Century".

In it, Acemoglu and Robinson liken Piketty's views with those of "the great classical economists, Malthus, Ricardo and Marx":
"We argue that all of these general laws are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future, because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions in shaping the evolution of technology and the distribution of resources in a society".
Branko Milanovic replies to the charge that Piketty totally neglects institutions:
"This is hard to understand since Piketty's explanation for a large part of changes in inequality in the US, France and elsewhere are precisely institutional: higher and then lower income and inheritance tax rates, abolition of slavery
"Actually, that part of the critique is fundamentally dishonest. It proceeds as follows. First, Acemoglu and Robinson establish the equation Piketty=Marx 
So far, so good. The Acemoglu/Robinson charge against Piketty is obviously unfounded.

But then, as if to show he is a reasonable mainstream economist, Milanovic "bounces" the charge against Marx:
"They then criticize Marx for ignoring institutions, more or less correctly (but clearly that has nothing to do with Piketty)".

Today, David Ruccio literally taught the three men a lesson. Out of Capital, volume 1 -- only -- he cites thirteen (yes, 13!) chapters where Marx considers institutional details in addition to an assortment of works by Marx and Engels (including Engels' "The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State" -- can there possibly be any title more explicit about its institutional content?).

Ruccio closes his post with this (although I urge you to read the whole epic takedown post):
"They want institutions? Then try this vivid summary (from Chapter 31) of the institutions that gave rise to capitalism:
"Tantae molis erat, to establish the 'eternal laws of Nature' of the capitalist mode of production, to complete the process of separation between labourers and conditions of labour, to transform, at one pole, the social means of production and subsistence into capital, at the opposite pole, the mass of the population into wage labourers, into 'free labouring poor,' that artificial product of modern society. If money, according to Augier, 'comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,' capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.
"Acemoglu and Robinson and Milanovic (not to mention Piketty) can't, it seems, handle that kind of institutional analysis."

Will Very Serious Economists learn anything from this? My guess, for what it is worth: not a chance in hell.