Anniversary Top Ten from Ed Walker

My first post at Emptywheel proper went up December 9, 2014; before that I wrote at FireDogLake alongside Marcy. One thing my poor eyes appreciate about this site is that it is ad-free. More important, the only effective way to get ads is through Google or some other placement site. I hate the idea that those people are making money off our work. I hope you will join me in keeping Emptywheel ad-free with your donations.

In making this list, I reread almost all of my posts and most of the comments. It made me realize just how long my posts are. Somehow they didn’t seem so long when I wrote them. I think most of them hold up pretty well. The discussion of the texts themselves seems quite good; but I would probably have somewhat different responses to the texts. The weakest posts are on Critical Theory, mostly because the ideas were unfamiliar and at the same time compelling.

One of the best parts of writing here is the excellence of the commenters. There have been a large number of insightful comments and suggestions that helped me in reading and understanding, and several which changed my mind. Other comments have fleshed out the weak parts of my discussions, which was very helpful in keeping me focused.

From oldest to newest, here are my top ten at EW

1. Paradigm Change Through Authority and Arguments About Truth

My first posts were about obvious weaknesses of neoliberal economic theory; lack of definitions of critical terms like market, for example. At the suggestion of a correspondent, I reread Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and wrote several posts about the book. It served as a good jumping off point for a more detailed criticism of neoliberal economic theory. This post shows us contrasting views of change, Kuhn’s theory and another. With this post I took a small step towards a more theoretical analysis.

2. Mankiw’s Ten Principles of Economics Part 6: Markets Are Usually a Good Way to Organize Economic Activity

After reading Kuhn, I tried to create a paradigm of neoliberal economics based on Mankiw’s Ten Principles of Economics that every economist agrees are right, and then did a series on those ten principles. This one is typical. Mankiw doesn’t define “market”, and neither do Samuelson and Nordhaus. They just wave their hands. In contrast, I offer a definition.

3. The Great Transformation Part 3: Neoliberalism Before It Got Its New Name

I next did a series on The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi. This post is typical. Polanyi discusses the part of the history of capitalism we lost in what C. Wright Mills called the Capitalist Celebration. This is an ugly picture of the past, and maybe the future, of work, and the attitude of the new feudal lords, the capitalists.

4. The Cost Of Equal Opportunity In A Neoliberal Economy

I shouldn’t have put Neoliberal in the title, but I think this is important. There is a limited number of jobs at any level of our economy. If some are given to a previously excluded group, some of the privileged group lose something real. This post uses me as an example.

5. The Origin of Totalitarianism Part 6: Totalitarian Propaganda

Hannah Arendt’s book fits nicely with Polanyi’s discussion of 19th Century capitalism and adds anti-Semitism and a deeper history of the rise of the Nazis. This post is especially relevant to today, when the Republicans are waging a war against reality and adopt crackpot theories.

6. The Origins of Totalitarianism: Conclusion

The comments are especially smart and valuable.

7. The Theory of Business Enterprise Part 2: Neoclassical Economists and Veblen

The next book was The Principles of Business Enterprise by Thorstein Veblen. This remarkable book knocks down neoclassical economists in favor of observations by a smart guy about the US capitalist system. All the forces he describes are still at work, and the current administration is trying to get us back to 1904.

8. Testing The Limits On Wealth Inequality

This post addresses the question of whether there are limits to wealth inequality as discussed in Capital In The Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty. After he wrote the book, he wrote a paper in which he shows how to use r > g to estimate a kind of limit. It’s very high.

9. An Economics For the Left

This post offers an economic platform for the left, something that I think is lacking. It turns on an unstated idea, that allocation of the production in any society is a matter of political choice, and in a democracy, everyone should have a voice in that choice. There’s a new textbook: Microeconomic Theory: A Heterodox Approach., suggested by Stephanie Kelton. Maybe change is really underway.

10. Liberal Bubbles and Conservative Elites

Not all my posts are about books; sometimes I go off on a rant. This one is about the stupid.

For good measure, here are two of my favorite posts from FireDogLake

1. What Should Obama Do For Us?

This was my first post at FDL, in September, 2008. The lefty side of the blogosphere, as we called it then, was all in for Obama, but made no demands in return for that support. In retrospect, I see that the problem was that there was no organized way to make demands, no leader to interact with the campaign, and no openness from the campaign to hear the hopes and prayers of all those small donors and door-bell ringers. We were irrelevant because we had no communication from the bottom up.

2. Oysters and Time

On Saturdays for a year, I wrote a short piece on a work of art. This was the first. I love this painting.

Notre Dame undergrad (math); JD, Indiana University at Bloomington; 1st Lieutenant, US Army.; private practice in corporate and securities law; Assistant AG in Tennessee for consumer protection and securities; Blue Sky Securities Commissioner, Tennessee; private practice, bankruptcy and corporate law.

I have had a lifelong interest in economics. For most of my career, that interest was practical, focused on the problems in front of me. Lately I have been more interested in economics as a theory, especially its impact on the lives of people like those I met in my bankruptcy practice, and on the politics of money in the US. I also enjoy reading philosophers, starting in college and steadily expanding my reading ever since. I wrote at FireDogLake for a number of years.

Generally, I think the problem facing the US is the dominance of neoliberal discourse. I think it clouds the vision, and limits the kinds of problems that can be identified and solved. For example, the existence and danger of climate change can easily be identified in a scientific discussion. However, the problem does not fit the neoliberal discourse because science insists that the pursuit of individual and corporate self-interest will lead to devastation. In neoliberal discourse, the pursuit of self-interest always leads to Eden.

The neoliberal project has two prongs. One is the police function of crushing dissent and alternative views. The police function is provided by government agencies and private and institutional actors. The counterpart is the economic system , which is operated by government and by private and institutional actors. Some of these actors operate in both spheres. I focus on the second prong.

7 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    ed walker,

    i did not recall your column on art at fdl, nor have i ever seen work by osias beert.

    the painting is indeed lovely – voluptuously, invitingly lovely –

    as are your musings on time, including patience and sudden destruction as elements of time passing.

    thanks for bringing this work of yours to light again. you might wish to reprise these old columns; they would then be resurrected (another, and stranger, element of time :) ).

    • Ed Walker says:

      Thanks; art is one of my little pleasures. This post drew a lot of good comments, sadly lost in translation. One of the commenters was an artist who explained how Beert got those oysters so right.

  2. PG says:

    Mr. Walker, your writing is both intellectually challenging and emotionally moving. Mahalo nui loa because ‘thank you’ doesn’t cut it.

  3. Peacerme says:

    Love so many of your posts. To do them service and have a great discussion in writing, I need more time!! Thank you so much. I often read them but rarely have time to discuss them and do them service. I studied with a professor who got his grad degree at U.P and ended up a specialist on communication in the CIA. He introduced us to Korzybski, (general semantics) and Thomas Kuhn, Chaos theory. At the time I did not fully appreciate the lessons but my gratitude for him has grown over time and your posts generate hope in me! If civilized?, industrialized humanity is going to survive we are going to need to get out of the Power and control paradigm for a paradigm based on connection and compassion. That would make the industrial revolution look primative. I have hope that humans can accept dual realities, truth in polarity, solutions outside of those accepted by an authority. Wouldn’t it be cool if God was truth and truth was God? And what if those evangelicals sought truth with the same energy as they seek authority?? It could change the world!

  4. lefty665 says:

    Wonderful series of posts Ed.

    My favorite of the bunch is your recent series on the slow death of neoliberalism. It ranged from intellectual foundations through the profoundly evil impact on people in the US and the world. Your academic approach to issues is refreshing, and the segue into practical consequences makes the impact of philosophy real. Regards, Lefty

Comments are closed.