Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin, Ireland. 27, history, politics & law graduate
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
May 14
Permalink anarchism economics
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Apr 06
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When the last dotcom bubble burst at the turn of the millennium, Ireland rode it out because we had a property bubble, a consumer-spending bubble and a government-spending bubble to take up the slack. Now, we have none of those. If there really is a tech bubble and it bursts, this time Ireland is far, far more vulnerable.

Ireland needs to be wary of bubble trouble - The Irish Times

Oh Jesus. (Or maybe, welp)

"Meanwhile Just-Eat, the online restaurant ordering service, floated in London this week at £1.6 billion. It doesn’t even have any proprietary technology – it is just a listings website – and its valuation led the Financial Times to muse about the risks."

(There’s also a very interesting piece in the latest New Inquiry, ’Disgorge the Cash’, about the role of IPOs and investment, not in funding productive activity, “but to ensure that productive activity eventually takes the form of money”, i.e. capital for capitalists.)

irish economics
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Apr 04
Permalink irish politics economics gaa
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Apr 03
Permalink
Apropos of this, here’s a good example of the Irish media colluding with government on the austerity agenda - reporting statements by the Minister for Transport to subtly suggest that anyone who thinks railways are an important public good is being childish (to be fair, a sub probably saw a good human interest angle to leaven the political economics, but still).
According to Varadkar, “we are not getting very good value for money from our railways”:

"I love the railways, I had a train set as a kid. I love the romance of steam engines pulling into the train station but I have to be realistic….. we can’t keep pumping money into the least efficient part of public transport which is the railways,” Mr Varadkar said. “We are getting so much better value for money from Dublin Bus, from Bus Eireann, who have taken pay cuts.”

Which is the point, really - those two companies have already put through ‘cost-reduction plans’ over union objections as well as threatened and actual industrial action, resulting in token modifications - and Irish Rail is next in line, hence a bit of softening up public opinion.
Anyway, what is this efficiency?

Elaborating on the issue of costs, he pointed out that 50 per cent of public investment in transport goes to Irish Rail for operating expenses alone even though the company was responsible for just 15 per cent of overall passenger journeys. Payroll costs were also higher at the company, he said.

"Public investment in transport… for operating costs" is a somewhat confusing statement. Most public investment in ‘transport’ in fact goes on roads, with a smaller amount going to public transport in the form of subsidies for ‘public service obligation’ (PSO) routes - which is operating expenses, not investment in stock. According to the statistical bulletins for rail and bus transport from the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail does indeed receive about half the total amount of PSO subsidies, while accounting for a minority of passenger journeys (37 million journeys, as against 113 million for Dublin Bus and 29 million for Bus Éireann, in 2012).
But there’s no clear information on how far each company takes those passengers, with both Irish Rail and Bus Éireann operating intercity services as well as suburban routes (in the case of DART for Irish Rail), while all routes are not necessarily PSO ones requiring subsidy. The statistics do state, however, that Irish Rail operated 6,623 ‘vehicle seat kilometres’ in 2012 (that’s distances travelled multiplied by number of seats, as a measure of capacity), as against 5,598 for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, combined. Now that’s capacity as against occupancy, and there may be more empty train seats than bus ones, but given that one expects trains to travel farther it suggests there may be more to the 50%/15% imbalance than is made out.

Apropos of this, here’s a good example of the Irish media colluding with government on the austerity agenda - reporting statements by the Minister for Transport to subtly suggest that anyone who thinks railways are an important public good is being childish (to be fair, a sub probably saw a good human interest angle to leaven the political economics, but still).

According to Varadkar, “we are not getting very good value for money from our railways”:

"I love the railways, I had a train set as a kid. I love the romance of steam engines pulling into the train station but I have to be realistic….. we can’t keep pumping money into the least efficient part of public transport which is the railways,” Mr Varadkar said. “We are getting so much better value for money from Dublin Bus, from Bus Eireann, who have taken pay cuts.”

Which is the point, really - those two companies have already put through ‘cost-reduction plans’ over union objections as well as threatened and actual industrial action, resulting in token modifications - and Irish Rail is next in line, hence a bit of softening up public opinion.

Anyway, what is this efficiency?

Elaborating on the issue of costs, he pointed out that 50 per cent of public investment in transport goes to Irish Rail for operating expenses alone even though the company was responsible for just 15 per cent of overall passenger journeys. Payroll costs were also higher at the company, he said.

"Public investment in transport… for operating costs" is a somewhat confusing statement. Most public investment in ‘transport’ in fact goes on roads, with a smaller amount going to public transport in the form of subsidies for ‘public service obligation’ (PSO) routes - which is operating expenses, not investment in stock. According to the statistical bulletins for rail and bus transport from the National Transport Authority, Irish Rail does indeed receive about half the total amount of PSO subsidies, while accounting for a minority of passenger journeys (37 million journeys, as against 113 million for Dublin Bus and 29 million for Bus Éireann, in 2012).

But there’s no clear information on how far each company takes those passengers, with both Irish Rail and Bus Éireann operating intercity services as well as suburban routes (in the case of DART for Irish Rail), while all routes are not necessarily PSO ones requiring subsidy. The statistics do state, however, that Irish Rail operated 6,623 ‘vehicle seat kilometres’ in 2012 (that’s distances travelled multiplied by number of seats, as a measure of capacity), as against 5,598 for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, combined. Now that’s capacity as against occupancy, and there may be more empty train seats than bus ones, but given that one expects trains to travel farther it suggests there may be more to the 50%/15% imbalance than is made out.

irish economics trains politics
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hardcorefornerds:

Political freedoms are luxuries that can be enjoyed once not-explicitly-political means of social control (like markets) have adequately supplanted inferior technologies of suppression.

The new New Inquiry issue, Money,is knocking it out of the park (at least if you like thinking about economics and politics as much as I do). You should buy it!

On a similar line, this post from the Fixing the Economists blog:

"It seems to me that this sort of totalitarian mindset is tied to the entire of marginalist microeconomics. Marginalist microeconomics, through its doctrines of rationality, seeks to describe the supposed behavior of every actor within the economy."

I don’t know if the title is a deliberate nod to Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, but it’s interesting to turn that critique on its head: rather than the planned economy leading to political unfreedom, the ‘free market’ not only supports oligarchic power (in the standard left critique) but also restricts meaningful choice at the individual level - “in marginalist economics people are nothing but calculating machines — not actual decision-makers.” 

politics economics
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"That social networks may remain free—both costless and infinitely flexible—depends on an assumption similar to the one that underlies [Pay-Per-Click]: that your digital engagement indicates commercially viable interest.”

A.E. Benenson, ‘No Purchase Necessary’ in The New Inquiry #27, Money

This point - in itself not particularly new or original - deserves repeating in the context of the idea that we’re approaching the age of a ‘near zero marginal cost’ economy: not just that it’s important to separate out digital reproduction from physical and human labour; but also the extent to which technology is in itself efficient to the point of costlessness, from the extent to which it is offered to us ‘free’ by commercial companies with ulterior goals.

Also interesting in this respect is the environmental cost of the cloud which - although the article is lacking on metrics of actual power use, which may or may not be significant at the individual level - illustrates how the choices by these digital companies have real-world physical consequences (and/or tie in with local political practices, e.g. coal in Virginia).

economics internet tni
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Apr 02
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Political freedoms are luxuries that can be enjoyed once not-explicitly-political means of social control (like markets) have adequately supplanted inferior technologies of suppression.

The new New Inquiry issue, Money,is knocking it out of the park (at least if you like thinking about economics and politics as much as I do). You should buy it!

politics economics
Comments (View) | 5 notes
Mar 27
Permalink
The society regulated by reference to the market that the neo-liberals are thinking about is a society in which the regulatory principle should not be so much the exchange of commodities as the mechanisms of competition. It is these mechanisms that should have the greatest possible surface and depth and should also occupy the greatest possible volume in society.

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 147 (Lecture of 14 February 1979)

I read this earlier today and this evening I was watching a news report on this story, about the shocking revelation that private UK energy firms are making soaring profits at a time of increased prices. The liberal response , articulated by the regulator itself, is to describe the situation as “weak competition”, with the implication that proper competition would reduce prices. Even the left-wing response, that this shows competition doesn’t work, tends to assume that something like actual (theoretical) economic competition was being attempted, rather than something more socially pervasive.

It struck me that the response of the regulator, Ofgem, coincided with the Foucauldian view quite accurately: it “said it wanted to “clear the air” after confirming evidence of soaring corporate profits and plunging consumer confidence.” Throughout the report there was no indication of any actual constraints that would be put on the companies, and a much stronger emphasis on restoring “trust” and “confidence” on the part of the consumer - in the competition process, or mechanism. (In the Guardian piece, it is mentioned that “The review could take up to two years to complete but Ofgem warned of much higher fines amounting to “tens of millions of pounds” against power companies if they break rules in the meantime” - but whether rules are actually being broken, or whether its a perception - based on profits and prices - which needs to be corrected, is unclear)

On the other side to “consumer confidence” is investor confidence, and the greater power the companies wield against any attempts to fundamentally change the competition mechanism:

"… a research note released by Liberum Capital said the CMA probe would freeze additional expenditure by the large power companies and "dampen investment from those corporates not directly involved in the inquiry."

And fellow City firm Exane Paribas said last week that Britain had moved over the last year from having one of the lowest political risks to the highest “and now ranks above Spain for the first time.

British Gas and other members of the big six have repeatedly warned that the lights could go out – most vociferously when Ed Miliband told the party annual conference last autumn that an incoming Labour government would force companies to freeze prices, break up the big six and dismantle the regulator.”

There are valid economic arguments against a price freeze, in terms of supply and demand - but I think (and following Foucault) the real threat is perceived to the ‘competition’ free pricing allows, rather than the pricing mechanism itself. As for ‘breaking up the big six’, this is both a liberal challenge to a creeping monopoly and a re-substitution of a core neoliberal value of enterprise. To return to Foucault:

"… what is sought is not a society subject to the commodity effect, but a society subject to the dynamics of competition. Not a supermarket society, but an enterprise society. The homo oeconomicus sought after is not the man of exchange or man the consumer; he is the man of enterprise and production.”

Amongst the summary of the report’s key points, two stand out in this regard:

"Evidence suggests companies may be engaging in "tacit co-ordination" to limit competition, for instance by announcing similar price changes around the same time, increasing prices when costs rise by more than they cut them when costs fall. These actions do not break competition law but suggest the market may be too cosy for suppliers.

If there is effective competition, a price rise by a company should risk customers going elsewhere. But it is difficult for new, smaller suppliers to compete because of high costs, low availability of wholesale energy, heavy regulation and environmental requirements.”

The market may be “too cosy” because, it is suggested, it is insufficiently regulated - or worse, the law itself is not powerful enough to deal with the distortions to the market. Among these distortions are the fact that energy production is a costly, complex and generally polluting business - but by shifting the focus from ‘wholesale’ to ‘retail’ it creates the illusion that market competition is genuinely possible. And in turn the consumer - but not just the consumer, the (market) citizen who is protected by the regulator - buys into the idea that they are getting, or should be getting, a “fair deal”, from this state-backed mechanism which guarantees their market freedoms.

economics uk foucault
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The long-sought panacea to human poverty may at last be within our reach in the form of broadband networks that empower all countries to take their place in the global economy, overcoming traditional barriers like geography, language and resource constraints

More corporate dividends than social returns - Business - The Irish Times

Very good piece by Ciarán Hancock on the telecommunications industry and its leading Irish baron, Denis O’Brien - it’s hard to believe he actually said the above, but it’s perfectly in character as the Irishman most deserving of begrudgery, ahead of Bono. It even takes the biscuit compared to this.

I think the simplest way to explain this is: ‘network’ /= structure.

economics irish
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Mar 23
Permalink economics
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