Falliable Economics

Here the “Planet Money” podcast does an episode about the story Dannah mentioned in our last discussion.

Episode 452: How Much Should We Trust Economics?

Three years ago, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff published a study that quickly became one of the most famous, most talked about economics papers since the financial crisis. It got so much attention because it answered a basic question everybody was asking: How much debt is too much?
Reinhart and Rogoff looked at what had happened in many different countries over many years. And they found a what looked like a clear debt threshold: 90 percent. Average growth was much, much slower in countries with debt-to-gdp ratios over 90 percent.
The paper got a lot of coverage in the press. Politicians cited it in the U.S. and Europe.
Then, this week, a 28-year-old grad student and his professors published a startling finding: Reinhart and Rogoff had made a simple Excel error in one part of their study. The authors of the new critique also questioned other elements of the study and argued that, in fact, there is no debt threshold.

I would be remiss if I didn’t make clear that I find the literal conclusion of the program -- in which they try to sum up -- utterly idiotic. Their explanation for the value of economics is that it’s the “best” we’ve “got.” It’s certainly not and one speaker’s derogatory allusion to studying “history” suggests all sorts of possible solutions. Step one, understanding that numbers are culturally created.


Jacqui sent in links to the articles she mentioned in class --

The one about "selective empathy" — as in, let's all be Bostonians today, and then why not Yemenis tomorrow, etc.

The one about the Saudi marathon man:

And the David Graeber piece:


This is the documentary film I mentioned about Star Trek fans. Many students, including the example I mentioned in discussion, can find it hard to understand these people’s actions as productive. I.e., the ideology of the Protestant Work Ethic shapes opinions about how, or if, these people are “good.” The film is streaming on netflix, in our library, and I’ll add a digital copy to our course’s Collab / Kaltura page.

Wendy Brown on Neoliberalism

Here is the Wendy Brown article I mentioned in our last discussion, with a thesis that Chloe seems to have productively reinvented.

American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization
Wendy Brown
Political Theory , Vol. 34, No. 6 (Dec., 2006), pp. 690-714

Abstract: Neoliberalism and neoconservatism are two distinct political rationalities in the contemporary United States. They have few overlapping formal characteristics, and even appear contradictory in many respects. Yet they converge not only in the current presidential administration but also in their de-democratizing effects. Their respective devaluation of political liberty, equality, substantive citizenship, and the rule of law in favor of governance according to market criteria on the one side, and valorization of state power for putatively moral ends on the other, undermines both the culture and institutions of constitutional democracy. Above all, the two rationalities work symbiotically to produce a subject relatively indifferent to veracity and accountability in government and to political freedom and equality among the citizenry.

Money as Socially Real Fantasy

Here are the radio stories (from various podcasts) that I’ve mentioned in our discussions. I highly recommend them all, especially as we continue to talk through economic issues for the next few weeks. I will list them here in the order that I think makes the most sense, but it’s not chronological.

Two quick -- and utterly classic -- readings on the topic. I highly recommend skimming them before you listen to the stories. To think -- this all begins with an anthropologist! The links below go to pdfs available to you via Collab.

WIlliam Henry Furniss. 1910. The Island of Stone Money. Philadelphia: Lippincott. Introduction and chapter 7.

Milton Friedman. 1991. “The Island of Stone Money.” In his, Money Mischief: Episodes in Monetary History. New York: Harcourt Brace. Pages 3-8.

From “This American Life” -- Click the links to download or stream the episodes.
The Invention of Money

The Giant Pool of Money.

Return to The Giant Pool of Money.

The Watchmen.

Additional reading, that I have found exceedingly helpful:

Julian Dibbell. 2006. Play Money: Or, How I Quit my Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot. New York: Basic Books. (This is the book Dannah mentioned in our last discussion)

Lawrence Weschler. 1999. Boggs: A Comedy of Values. Chicago: U Chicago Press.

Michael Lewis. 2010. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. New York: W.W. Norton.

Barbara Ehrenreich. 2009. “Introduction,” “Motivating Business and the Business of Motivation,” and “God Wants you to be Rich.” From her Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America.

Sam Walker. 2007. Fantasyland: A Sportswriter's Obsessive Bid to Win the World's Most Ruthless Fantasy Baseball. New York: Penguin.

Here is my “Fantasy” course in which I also teach these materials.

Some documentary films to check out:

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Alex Gibney, dir. 2005

Inside Job. Charles Ferguson, dir. 2010.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Alex Gibney, dir. 2010.

The Queen of Versailles. Lauren Greenfield, dir. 2011. (This is the film that Dannah mentioned in our last discussion.)

Zizek on Charity