Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Craft beer bollocks, part whatever

Oh Americans, will you never learn?

"The oldest persisting food purity law in the world is the German Reinheitsgebot. In April 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV and Duke Ludwig X of Bavaria decreed that the only ingredients to be used in making lager were water, barley, and hops. (It wouldn’t be until the 19th century that Louis Pasteur discovered the crucial role of yeast in fermenting sugars into ethanol).[dd notes - this bit isn't really true. Pasteur discovered the means by which fermentation worked, but it is not like medieval brewers didn't know about yeast.]

While this law ensured the quality, tradition, and purity of beer in Germany, it also stifled experimentation and innovation by prohibiting brewers from testing other ingredients. The Belgian monks, by contrast, were free to develop complex and innovative beer styles during the last few centuries by adding fruits, spices, wild yeast and bacteria, and other cereal grains, like wheat, to their ales. This experimental spirit has been embraced by today’s do-it-yourself home brewers and craft brewers in the United States, which is currently regarded as the most innovative and exciting country for craft beer.

Well, the history is a bit all over the place here (to start with, he's anticipated Bismarck by three hundred years in order to enforce a Bavarian law all over Germany). But the real issue is once more the "we have more and more different varieties of basically identical syrupy hoppy IPA, therefore our beer is best, and you can buy it in bottles in supermarkets" line that American beer bores always try to push on you. If one considers the implications of this, one ends up concluding that Prague isn't much of a beer-drinker's town (only three breweries, mostly producing ordinary pilsner!) and that people who want to drink stout should steer clear of that godawful one-brewery town they call Dublin.

"Oh, but we're interested in the variety of flavours and all the different expressions of blah blah blah". Nah. Do you know what has a variety of flavours and subtle culinary experiences? Food. Try some of that. Hard to get away from the impression with some of these people that the fact that beer gets you drunk is an unfortunate inconvenience.

As a hobby, there's nothing wrong with beer fandom. The Yanks do actually make some quite nice beers from time to time, although they do not tend to be very good at innkeeping. But it's trainspotting, fellers. And as a form of trainspotting, part of the price one pays for the satisfaction of the collector's urge is a healthy slab of ridicule from those outside the hobby.
18 comments this item posted by the management 2/28/2012 03:48:00 AM

Monday, February 27, 2012

From my email outbox ...

Context fairly self-explanatory I think.

[...] In general though, I think you do have a fairly important point that
a) EMU was always intended to lead to "ever closer union" ie fiscal
union, b) a fiscal union is more or less by definition going to end up
as a matter of big states both subsidising and bullying little states,
pleasing roughly nobody, and c) far too little work has been done on
getting the population of Europe aware of or reconciled to this fact.

0 comments this item posted by the management 2/27/2012 03:46:00 AM

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Childish, I know

There goes another fucking New Year's resolution. This is the sort of behaviour I keep thinking I ought to give up, but in my defence, Fuller really is a dick. I have actually given it the old college try in being nice to him, as the CT seminar on Chris Mooney will demonstrate. But actually, appearing as an expert witness for creation scientists in "intelligent design" school board trials is one of the man's least annoying characteristics.

I am particularly proud of my exit line.



0 comments this item posted by the management 2/09/2012 01:27:00 PM
Thoughts in the direction of a review of Graeber's Debt

probably a few of these on the way as a CT seminar is in the works and I have volunteered to contribute.

First thought is that although Graeber makes a very convincing case on "the myth of barter", the general shape of the "economists' creation myth" is that using numeraire money as a unit of account and medium of transactions is a massively more convenient way to organise things, and that this becomes increasingly more and more necessary as the economy develops complexity, diversity and specialisation. And this is not only true, but shown to be so by all of Graeber's own examples. I mean ....

"The visitors in this particular example were famous for their 'much prized serrated spears' - their hosts had access to good European cloth. The trading begins when the visiting party, which consisted of both men and women, enters the camp's dancing ground of 'ring place' and three of them began to entertain their hosts with music. Two men start singing, a third accompanies them on the
didjeridu. Before long, women from the hosts' side come and attack the musicians.

Men and women rise and begin to dance. The
dzamalag opens when two Ginwinggu women of the opposite moiety to the singing men "give dzamalag" to the latter. They present each man with a piece of cloth and hit or touch him, pulling him down on the ground, calling him a dzamalag husband and joking with him in an erotic vein. Then another woman of the opposite moiety to the pipe player gives him cloth, hits and jokes with him.

This sets in motion the
dzamalag exchange. Men from the visiting group sit quietly while women of the opposite moiety come over and give them cloth, hit them and invite them to copulate; they take any liberty they choose with the men, amid amusement and applause, while the singing and dancing continue. Women try to undo the men's loin coverings or touch their penises, and to drag them from the 'ring place' for coitus. The men go with their dzamalag partners, with a show of reluctance, to copulate in the bushes away from the fires which light up the dancers. They may give the women tobacco or beads. When the women return, they give part of this tobacco to their own husbands, who have encouraged them to go dzamalag. The husbands, in turn, use the tobacco to pay their own female dzamalag partners ...

New singers and musicians appear, are again assaulted and dragged off to the bushes; men encourage their wives 'not to be shy', so as to maintain the Gunwinggu reputation for hospitality; eventually those men also take the initiative with the visitor's wives, offering cloth, hitting them and leading them off into the bushes. Beads and tobacco circulate. Finally, once participants have all paired off at least once, and the guests are satisfied with the cloth they have acquired, the women stop dancing and stand in two rows and the visitors line up to repay them.

Then visiting men of one moiety dance towards the women of the opposite moiety, in order to ' give them
dzamalag'. They hold shovel-nosed spreads poised, pretending to spear the women, but instead hit them with the flat of the blade. 'We will not spear you, for we have already speared you with our penises'. They present the spears to the women. Then, visiting men of the other moiety go through the same actions with the women of their opposite moiety, giving them spears with serrated points. This terminates the ceremony, which is followed by a large distribution of food".

This all sounds like quite fun, in a sort of Ice Storm, car-keys-in-the-fruit-bowl kind of way, and I certainly agree that it has very little resemblance to classically described barter. But none the less, I think David Graeber would have to agree that it sounds like a fucking inconvenient way to buy a blanket. Compared to, say, pre paid debit cards.

Serious point - it is very convenient to have a numeraire for spot exchanges, and to have a unit of account to facilitate forward or noncontemporaneous exchanges, and to make that "money" item as generic as possible in order to allow it to be used in as many types of transaction as possible. Once you have a unit of account and exchanges based on that unit of account, then as far as I can see, if you combine that with the general category of "making promises" or "saying you're going to do something and then doing it", then you're well on the way to the characteristics that Graeber identifies with the social-legal institution of debt. So I think that he wins the battle and loses the war on the Myth of Barter - the very fact that so many different societies converge on something like the institution of debt-money (and that non-debt-money societies tend to adopt it quite quickly once exposed to the technology) rather militates against the kind of deep anthropological study that he wants to form the basis of the social sciences, and in favour of the functionalist black-box approach which is basically the mark of modern economics.
27 comments this item posted by the management 2/09/2012 10:10:00 AM

Friday, February 03, 2012

The only thing I ever liked about Fred Goodwin

(And me and Fred had to suffer each other for about five years, during which time I had a more or less perpetual Sell on his stock)

... was that when he was doing his egomaniac thing, he would always announce as the crowning glory of his achievements at RBS that "Royal Bank is the single largest payer of corporation tax in the UK".

I've always thought that, rather than allowing the Sunday Times to sell a bumper issue's advertising with their "Rich List", HMRC ought to publish every year the 500 largest payers of basic and higher rate income tax, plus capital gains tax in the year. Not only would this be a better measure of who was actually rich in the country (after all, "wealth", when it depends on guesstimates of asset values, is an opinion, but tax paid is a fact), but I suspect that it would have a salutory effect on tax compliance. Ted Turner used to regularly try to buy Forbes magazine, simply in order to stop it from publishing the "Forbes 500" rich list. He genuinely believed that American plutocrats were driven into avoiding tax and reducing their philanthropy, purely out of fear of losing ranking places on that list. From casual observation (admittedly of hedge fund managers rather than the inherited rich, but frankly there's no saving them), I think he might have a point.

I am beginning to think, btw, and completing this post and reading it back rather reinforces it, that I'm beginning to sort of take advantage of limited-audience blogging and that "writing things that I couldn't normally say to a general audience" is shading into "writing things that I wouldn't necessarily be prepared to stand behind". Any opinions, readers?
3 comments this item posted by the management 2/03/2012 01:02:00 PM
By way of an attempt to persuade Chris B to write a blog post I want to read

Hands up if, when you heard that Stephen Hester had "waived his bonus", you hoped for a second that he'd taken two fistfuls of banknotes and done the nutty-walk from Bishopsgate to Whitehall shouting "OI! LOADSAMONEY!! SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!!". A quick survey at work suggests that it wasn't just me.

The joke was presumably on my mind because an email exchange with Chris a couple of weeks ago about banking and its influence on the wider culture, in which I noted that people often forget when thinking about the "Loadsamoney culture" of the 1980s, that Harry Enfield's character wasn't actually a banker, trader or anything else to do with the financial services industry[1]. He was a plasterer - I think that part of what's going on here is that people were maybe a leetle bit more honest in those days about the extent of public participation in and responsibility for the asset bubble, and partly of course, because of EU expansion, the skilled-working-class element of the prosperity created by the bubble tended to go to people who are a bit more invisible in British popular culture.

I'm probably in a poor position to judge the "culture of traders", because although I know a lot of them, I'm generally regarded as an oddball and outlier (specifically, as someone who doesn't tolerate much in the way of boorish behaviour), and so I probably see a different side of people from what they present to the public. But I think that the people in the Guardian Banking Blog who every week do the line about cocaine and lap-dancing clubs (apparently, nobody in finance bothers with any other drugs, or any other kind of club) are missing the bigger picture. Young men are often kind of fucking appalling, as we all know. Finance employs a lot of them, and pays some of them really well. As a result, they've got quite a lot of visibility, particularly in the Central London entertainment districts where journalists also socialize. I don't think there's much more to it than that, and the TV series Nathan Barley suggests to me that other industries can be just as horrible when they get the chance (certainly, the annoying current of crass sexism and laddishness in modern culture seems to me to be one that can't be blamed on us).

My new employer's offices are on the top floor of the building which contains the Apple Store in London, and two floors below us are occupied by a headquarters building for Apple Europe. Which puts me in the quite amusing position every day of being in the lift (as I come back from buying the second coffee of the day and they are arriving at work), with a bunch of people who employ sweatshop labour in the Third World, who are looking down on the employees of an almost totally herbivorous French stockbroking business (which does no lending or capital market activity at all; we just find you some shares if you want to buy some, and find you some buyers if you want to sell some) because we are the unethical ones. I suspect that there are a fair few Nathan Barleys among them too by the look. But I suppose that this too, is prejudice.

Postscript. Lest anyone think that I an whining, or creating strawmen, see this piece by the New Economics Foundation. Apparently every pound paid to someone like me[2] destroys seven pound of value! The way you get this figure, btw, is to add up all the costs of the crisis in terms of GDP, treat the increase in government borrowing as a cost, then attribute it all to a small group of financial sector executives in wholesale banking. The only consolation is that advertising executives are apparently even worse people, as they destroy GBP11 for every pound they get paid, because of "overconsumption", or something. Weirdly, advertising bods seemed to get more blame from the NEF for "overindebtedness" than bankers.

[1] Although the catchphrase was still occasionally used in the City ten years later, usually in the context of someone who had been given the job of settling a large bar bill, and thus was given the Pavlovian stimulus of holding a large wad of banknotes in his hand.

[2] Actually, someone a couple of levels above me because they restrict it to executives earning GBP1m or above. But having used this smaller population to do their calculation, they are then not at all shy in chucking it about indiscriminately, or allowing it to be cited misleadingly, and in general they do want my income to be taxed at 100% so I think it's safe to say that the NEF regard me as being basically intrinsically socially destructive. Say maybe as bad as someone who worked in advertising, but who had a sideline as a nursery nurse.
18 comments this item posted by the management 2/03/2012 01:03:00 AM

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