Tag: John Maynard Keynes

The Long Emergency, part one

A reflection on the huge changes facing our global society.

I am reading James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency.  On the front cover there is a quote from a review in The Independent newspaper, “If you give a damn, you should read this book.”  On the back cover, the quote, “Stark and frightening.  Read it soon.” – Daily Camera.  The quotes are spot on!

Rather than give my own opinion at this stage (I should finish the book first!), let me quote from the opening of Chapter Five, Nature Bites Back.

I was a at a four-day conference called Pop Tech in the seaside village of Camden, Maine, at the peak of the fall foliage season in October 2003, having a pretty good time at the talks, and enjoyiong a series of extravagant dinners – one featuring a free oyster raw bar and gratis Grey Goose vodka – not to mention all the lobsters, steaks, and other products of our bountiful cheap-oil economy.  Then, on Saturday afternoon, a scientist from the University of Washington, Peter D. Ward, got up in the old-time opera house where the conference was held and did a presentation about the life and death of the planet Earth,  Using a series of vivid artist’s renderings delivered on PowerPoint, Ward showed us how, hundreds of millions of years hence, all land animals would become extinct, the green forests and grasslands would broil away, the oceans would evaporate, and eventually our beloved planet would be reduced to a pathetic ball of inert lifeless lint – prefatory to being subsumed in the expanded red giant heat cloud of our baking sun.  Few members of the audience had any appetite for the spread of cookies and munchables laid out for the break that followed.  Personally, I was so depressed that I felt like gargling with razor blades.

The human spirit is remarkably resilient, though.  A few hours later, the horror of it all was forgotten and the conference-goers reported to the next supper buffet with the appetites recharged, happy to scarf more lobster and beef medallions and guzzle more liquor, while chatting up new friends about their various hopes and dreams for the continuing story of civilized life here on good old planet Earth, which, it was assumed, had quite a ways to go before any of us needed to worry about its fate, if ever.

Wasn’t it John Maynard Keynes who famously remarked to a group of fellow economists dithering about the long-term this and the long-term that: “Gentlemen, in the long term we’re all dead.”  Our brains are really not equipped to process events on a geological scale – at least in reference to how we choose to live, or what we choose to do in the here-and-now.  Five hundred millions years is a long time, but how about the mad rush of events in just the past 2,000 years starring the human race?  Rather action-packed, wouldn’t you say?  Everything from the Roman Empire to the Twin Towers, with a cast of billions – emperors, slaves, saviors, popes, kings, queens, navies, rabbles, conquest , murder, famine, art, science, revolution, comedy, tragedy, genocide, and Michael Jackson.  Enough going on in a mere 2,000 years to divert anyone’s attention from the ultimate fate of the earth, you would think.  Just reflecting on the events of the twentieth century alone could take your breath away, so why get bent out of shape about the ultimate fate of the earth?  Yet, I was not soothed by these thoughts, nor by the free eats, and even the liquor failed to lift me up because I couldn’t shake the recognition that in the short term we are in pretty serious trouble, too.

OK, that’s enough for today – I’ll continue this important extract on Monday.  Let me close by inviting you to watch James Kunstler in interview.

Events!

Strange how it can sometimes run!

It’s coming up to noon on the 18th, i.e. yesterday.  The morning has been busy and this afternoon a number of items on the ‘to do’ list are making it difficult for me to put together a Post for today.  I was minded to simply write a small piece saying this and apologising for leaving you, dear reader, in the lurch for a day.

Thought I might call the Post, ‘Events, dear boy, events’, the famous quotation from the Rt. Hon. Harold Macmillian, Prime Minister of the UK between January 1957 and October 1963.  Did a quick Google search to check the quote and came across a delightful piece from The Telegraph British newspaper published in June 2002.  So I’m cheating by selectively republishing the article in that paper written by Robert Harris.

As Macmillan never said: that’s enough quotations

Reading through the Guardian over breakfast the other day, I came across a column headlined “Events, ol’ buddy, events”. It was all I could do not to hurl it across the kitchen.

This was not because the column was bad, or because the Guardian’s leader pages were any more irritating than usual, but simply because I knew what was coming.

And, yes, of course, there it was, down towards the bottom of the page: “All politicians know – and often quote – the response from Harold Macmillan when asked what a prime minister most feared: ‘Events, dear boy, events’.”

Later Robert Harris writes,

It’s not as if it’s even been reliably authenticated. Some say Macmillan made it to President Kennedy, others to a journalist after dinner. Denis Healey claims it referred to foreign policy.

Alistair Horne, Macmillan’s official biographer (who tells me he can’t put his finger on it, either) thinks it may have been a response to the Profumo affair.

It didn’t appear in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations until 1999 (where it is carefully described as “attributed”) which may explain why hardly anybody used it until three years ago.  Now it’s as unavoidable as “a week is a long time in politics” or “it’s the economy, stupid”.

I’m not trying to be snooty about this. I can’t remember whether I’ve ever actually used it myself, but I’ve certainly used plenty of quotations like it – aphorisms that fall into a particular category: just above the out-and-out cliché and just below the level of something genuinely apt and unfamiliar.

Then Robert writes in a way that slightly touches a nerve of this poor writer, having lent on the use of a quotation from time to time!

Every writer and reader will no doubt have their own particular favourites that they’d be grateful never to hear again, but these are mine:

  1.  “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs” – Enoch Powell on Joseph Chamberlain.
  2.  “There are three bodies no sensible man directly challenges: the Roman Catholic Church, the Brigade of Guards and the National Union of Mineworkers” – Harold Macmillan (also attributed to Stanley Baldwin).
  3.  “In the long run we are all dead” – John Maynard Keynes.
  4.  “I’d rather take advice from my valet than from the Conservative Party Conference” – Arthur Balfour.
  5.  “Socialism is what a Labour Government does” – Herbert Morrison.
  6.  “Not while I’m alive ‘e ain’t” – Ernest Bevin, on being told that Morrison was “his own worst enemy”.
  7.  “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” – de Gaulle.
  8.   “Is it better to be loved than feared, or the reverse? The answer is that it is desirable to be both, but because it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer for a prince to be feared than loved” – Niccolo Machiavelli.
  9.  “Treason is a question of dates” – Talleyrand.
  10.  “It is worse than a crime, it is a blunder” – Anotine Boulay de la Meurthe, on hearing of the execution of the Duc d’Enghien by Napoleon.

These are all, in their different ways, excellent quotations – epigrammatic or wise or cynical. They are certainly not as clichéd as “I don’t know what effect these men have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me”, as Wellington is usually misquoted, or Lady Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as Society”.

And yet, for all that, they are clichés, made slightly worse by the fact that using them is designed to convey a thin patina of learning. They are at once familiar, yet just unfamiliar enough to have a certain snob value.

Interesting list, don’t you think!

Is Mr. Harris immune?  Of course not!  Here’s how the article closes,

And while we’re about it, can we also lose those other phrases and images that have no specific author, but that regularly surface in columns (including mine)?

Let no more deckchairs be rearranged on the Titanic, or Fuhrers in their bunkers order around phantom divisions, or turkeys vote for Christmas, or horses be promoted by Caligula. Let there be no more strange deaths of Liberal/Tory/ Labour England.

“You have used every cliché except ‘God is love’ and ‘Please adjust your dress before leaving’,” Churchill (famously) said. In that spirit, I curse “events, dear boy, events”. As Cromwell (equally famously) declared: “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”

With no more ado, (there’s another cliché!), I will sign off.

An Overview of the Study of Macroeconomics

A primer from Prof. Jarrell on this important subject

Macroeconomics is the study of aggregate supply and demand, and looks both internally to the workings of the economy and externally to how a domestic economy interacts with others worldwide.

Macro builds on the principles of microeconomics, which is the study of prices and quantities of individual goods and the markets where these goods are produced and sold.

In macro, “price” refers to some index of the prices of domestic goods and services, and “quantity” refers to some measure of the value of domestic production or “output.”  One common measure of output is gross domestic product (“a measure of the productive activity of a country computed on the basis of the ownership of the factors of production”). A country’s standard of living is usually directly correlated with its real output, or the value of total output corrected for inflation.

J M Keynes
John M Keynes

Unlike microeconomics, macroeconomics started with the idea that prices and markets do not continuously resolve all of the coordination requirements of a modern economy.   Such “failures of coordination” (Keynes) seem likely when one views the economy as the collective sum of thousands of microeconomic markets.

For example, although most economies around the world have experienced generally positive trends in their gross domestic product, short run positive and negative deviations (recessions and, in more dramatic examples of the failure of coordination, depressions) around the trend line, or “business cycles,” are common.

Inflation is the rate of change of the average level of prices, where the price level is usually measured as a price index.  Inflation rates are typically quoted in annualized percentages.  In normal times, the inflation rate is procyclical: it rises in periods of high growth and declines in periods of slow growth.  Unemployment, by contrast, is usually countercyclical.  The U. S. inflation rate was as likely to be negative as it was positive before World War II; since then, price levels have risen fairly consistently.

Read more about this important topic