Commedia della Vita or Pánta Rêi's Firm Ground

Usefulness of Piketty

Much of the debate on Piketty’s book did not go much beyond number-crunching and (possibly abashed) groaning … – yes, the injustice of the world …

An intersting article says, there can be more positive outline from there. the headline reads

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa announced radical plans to support asylum-seekers and stateless people.

Two things are of some special interest, when opening the site. Two links can be found:
RELATED: French Officials Clear Hundreds from Migrants Camps
RELATED: Ecuador Congress Reviews Wealth Redistribution Law
Yes, interesting to see things in context, isn’t it?

Hidden Slavery

Chrystia Freeland, in her book
mentions something interesting, a bit sublime perhaps, and subtle, but surely more shocking than all the calculations by beancounters as Piketty – though their work may also be of some importance – at least for those who prefer the wooden hammer info of numbers instead of approaching harsh reality shows of life. So, the reality, the real meaning is grasped in the book I just mentioned, talking about Eric Emerson Schmidt, whom wikipedia sees simply as “Software engineer and businessman” and his “interesting views”.

If you traveled to Mountain View to visit Eric Schmidt when he was CEO of Google, you would have found him in a narrow office barely big enough to hold three people. The equations on the whiteboard may well have been scribbled by one of the engineers who works next door and is welcome to use the chief’s office whenever he’s not in. And while it is okay to have a private jet in the Valley, employing a chauffeur is frowned upon. “Whereas in other cultures, you can drive your Rolls-Royce around and just sort of look rich and have a really good time, in technology it’s not socially okay to have a driver who drives you to work every day,” Schmidt told me. “I don’t know why, but you’ll notice nobody does it.”

This egalitarian style can clash with the Valley’s reality of extreme income polarization. “Many tech companies solved this problem by having the lowest-paid workers not actually be employees. They’re contracted out,” Schmidt explained. “We can treat them differently, because we don’t really hire them. The person who’s cleaning the bathroom is not exactly the same sort of person. Which I find sort of offensive, but it is the way it’s done.”

This is also mentioned in a presentation that is available on the web.
Doesn’t this remind a bit of the treatment of slaves – we are frequently shocked when thinking about the blunt ignorance of ancient times, or the slave trade in modern times. And we may be shocked (only “may be” as not all are) when we hear about migration and the fortress Europe. But the day-to-day trafficking within this system is easily ignored, not even recognised by so many.
I remember, taking part in a conference organised several years ago by the European Commission, taking place in Birmingham. The event’s concern: labour market and using the ESF as means for the integration of the weakest. During the conference dinner a friend of mine asked the waitress a few questions – about income, working conditions … We learned that the lady had been underpaid, and “on call”. Whenever she heard (short notice) that she would be “allowed” to work few hours she had to do it: “you can say “no” once, but surely not more. She had to look then for somebody taking care of her little boy.
All this surely appalling – but it came worse: We went to somebody from the Commission – the organiser. “We cannot do anything. This service had been advertised. We looked for the best bid – and we can only check the technical correctness ….”
Switching scene, back to Eric Schmidt. Wikipdia also lets us know:

Schmidt was a campaign advisor and major donor to Barack Obama and served on Google’s government relations team. Obama considered him for Commerce Secretary. Schmidt was an informal advisor to the Obama presidential campaign and began campaigning the week of October 19, 2008, on behalf of the candidate. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Chief Technology Officer position, which Obama created in his administration. After Obama won in 2008, Schmidt became a member of President Obama’s transition advisory board. He proposed that the easiest way to solve all of the problems of the United States at once, at least in domestic policies, is by a stimulus program that rewards renewable energy and, over time, attempts to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

He has since become a new member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology PCAST.

Switching scene, back to Europe again: there is something in all this, that reminds me of an article I read recently, talking about refugees and consumerism. The main argument: The crisis is not least a warning that we have to move away from consumerist attitudes – a bit of solidarity as sharing attitude. Yes, may be there is some truth also in that. But to be honest, the baseline of it is in my view not much more than a left good-doer attitude, not looking FIRST AND FOREMOST at the untouched relations and mode of production. The comments on the article are actually quote telling, and though I agree on many issues with the author, I see (and disagree) as well with the “quasi-religious attitude” behind it, pleading nolens volens for all of us tightening the belt …. Eating less meat and vegetarianism does not make a revolution.
And thus it easily leaves the old patterns intact – the following little episode could well be one that we find referred to in the works of Milton Friedman – I had been revisiting his work recently more or less extensively. There is no free lunch – but the “free market” surely guarantees that inequality remains:
In the journal distributed in Italian trains I saw this ad for luxurious transport bytrain:
Later then, in the same travel journal, the editorial or a dedication presented the move to make train stations public, offering space for those most in need – yes, and it is even free of charge:
And next to it again a fancy ad – but we know such clash from earlier. So to say, the free lunch, falling from the table of the super-rich ….
Switching scene, back to the world.
Currently we can follow the UN-debates on the New Sustainability Goals.
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa made some valid and crucially important points in his speech, highlighting the necessity to change the foundations of the current system – not by changing the determinants of exchange (more just etc.), but by changing the foundations of the current system. And these foundations are not about changes of norms, of consumerism etc.: they are about the change of the mode of production. And though we are talking (rightly) about globalisation, and even if we criticise war-mongering, we forget that nationalism is still one of the fundamental features of the current system. It causes the externalisation of cost; and it causes the ongoing debate on migration as matter of “accommodating people from other countries” instead of acknowledging the need for a more fundamental re-thinking, looking for
human mobility laws based on human rights
In his speech, Correa  also criticises “social minimum approaches”, vehemently arguing for the need of moving to social maxima.
Indeed, religion, also in a modernised form, will not get us anywhere. Dealing with distribution, has to be about production.

Economics and Responsibilities …

Teaching economics is of course a balance act – the need to make students familiar with what is available in the poison cabinet of mainstream economics, and at the same time avoiding even during the short available time that anybody gets tempted by the captivating simplicity of the technical formulas (or repelled by the seeming neutrality). – Yes, Milton Friedman had been right, quoting about myths:
Someone once wrote, and I’m not sure who it was, that a myth is like an air mattress. There’s nothing in it but it’s wonderfully comfortable and deflation causes an uncomfortable jolt.
But there is another responsibility when it comes to the small print (if we may say so).
Somewhere, two test questions caught my attention. the one concerns “normal goods”, i.e. goods of superior quality, to be distinguished from “inferior goods”.
The question read like this – and the options for the reply are interesting:

Which of the following are normal goods?

• Sliced, white bread

• Salt

• Strawberries

• Tesco value baked beans

• Caviar
Leaving the branding part aside, suggesting (implicitly) caviar as normal gives some answer to the question “who are the economists”? And if somebody remembers right now the lines about “preaching water, while drinking wine” from Heine’s Germay . A Winter’s Fairy Tale, it may not be by pure accident.
Another question, however, makes me thinking if this is justified. This one, see below (and again leaving the branding aside), reveals, that the understanding of good food did not necessarily arrive in those circles ….

Which of the following goods are substitutes for each other?

• Pizza and hamburgers

• Pie and chips

• Coke and Pepsi

• Salt and pepper

• Bacon and eggs
Well, nobody is perfect  and with such a small-print nobody and nothing will be …

Loss of character – Charakterverlust

Charakterverlust – Verlust der geprägten Eindeutigkeit des Ich in der Gegenwart zwischen Vergangenheit und des Hinübertragens in die Zukunft

Loss of character – Loss of the embossed clearness of the I (the personality) between past and carrying on into the future

Wenn eine heftige Liebe gefühlt wird, so geht man eben zum Analytiker und stirbt nicht dafür.

If one feels an intense love, one goes to the psychoanalyst instead of dying for it.
… weil dieses Ich gewissermaßen ein Ballast ist, der ihnen das Fortkommen innerhalb der gesellschaftlichen Riesenmaschine nur schwer machen könnte. Man könnte sogar soweit (.) sagen, dass in diesem Prozess die Menschen, die sich all dem anpassen nur um ihrer Selbsterhaltung willen eben in diesem Prozess der Anpassung genau dieses selbe ich, dieses Selbst verlieren, dass sie eigentlich erhalten wollen — darin liegt die satanische Dialektik …
… because the I (the personality) is in some way a burden, that could make progressing within this societal mammoth only difficult, one could even go further, saying that with this process the human beings, who adapt themselves just in order of self-preservation  loose within exactly this process of adaptation themselves, this personality which they actually want to preserve — with this we see the satanic dialectics

Migration … and Beyond: A Country of Criminals

We are still and rightly very much concerned by the problems around migration in Europe, the problems not least being governments that now use tear gas against the victims: Europe, and surely also and not least the USNA are very much the responsible forces behind a world order that created a periphery that is now under such distress that also internal factors as war-mongering, religious fundamentalism, corruption that serves an unjust distribution etc. cause an exodus. There is surely no easy fix – and equally sure is that the Hungarian move to teargas refugees is counterproductive and lacks and political and humanitarian perspective.

But there is actually a wider perspective that came to my mind the other day.

We are living in a society where it makes some headline if somebody states matters that seem to be more than obvious – and that may even lead a candidate in the USNA to victory:

We cannot fix our criminal justice system if corporations are allowed to profit from mass incarceration. Keeping human beings in jail for long periods of time must no longer be an acceptable business model in America.

These are the words of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, in connection with launching a Bill To improve Federal sentencing and corrections practices, and for other purposes.

It may be surprising, that such statement deserves to be highlighted.

But looking at the fact, it is only little surprising as Detention means big money for for-profit prisons.

There is one point that is of immediate interest in connection with migration – though not yet in Europe. In a report by from Telsur we read:

The bill also seeks to eliminate the requirement that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) meets a 34,000 bed quota, which has similarly resulted in the mass detention and exploitation of undocumented people for profit.

And of course, economists like Freedman and Hayek would simply refer to some value-free thinking – in fact, what they mean, is: human beings are not valued as such, and Orban dares to state

There is no fundamental right to a better life

One may be wondering about the seemingly unlimited rights to ignorance right-wing politician can claim. Realistically, as Majkowska-Tomkin, head of the IOM’s Hungary office, stated

From my perspective Hungary needs to respect its international obligations and allow people to claim asylum and provide facilities for them that are adequate for their condition

Btw. all this should also be seen in the context of the general tightening of drawing border stricter, also within the EU by limiting the freedom of persons, as shortly described here; for those who do not want to read the full text of the relevant judgment; and also by sanctioning refugees now in Germany, the country that frequently had been celebrated over the last days and weeks for its generosity …

European migrants no longer have the same rights as other workers in the EU.

Wanted to “reblog” this, but me and technology …

in any case it is interesting to see how, now, from different angles, what had been claimed to be a European Social Model, is now openly attacked from different sides: fortress, including the appalling measures by the Hungarian government; Greece earlier (and ongoing) , the reductions of social provisions and education (via cuts, privatisation and “managerialist dictates”) and and and … and now …


European migrants no longer have the same rights as other workers in the EU.

by Paul Spicker

The European Court of Justice decided on 15th September that member states can impose greater limits on the rights to benefit of EU migrants in other countries.  EUobserver explains that if a person works for less than a year, then benefits can be suspended after six months, and the claimants can be deported.

I wrote, earlier this year, that “The UK can legitimately deny benefits to EU workers if, and only if, it denies benefits to British workers on the same basis.”  It seems I was wrong.   Britain, and other European states, can now come to the decision that a  European worker might not be enough of a worker to be treated as one, and European migrants who work do not have the same rights as other workers.  That drives a cart and horses through the principle of free movement of labour on equal terms.