Wednesday, November 11, 2015

From 2009

Paul Krugman has said we are living in a "Macroëconomic dark ages" where knowledge of the past is "being lost." Specifically he points out how long exploded fallacies are being offered up as deep scholarly truths. To be a classicist for a moment, there was, in fact, a Dark Ages during the Bronze Age when the Greeks lost their knowledge of writing. It was during this post-literate era that Homeric poetry came into being. It was part of a larger transition to the iron age. The fall of Rome hasn’t been the only fall from light.

He repeated those points at the Thinking Big conference yesterday. Which featured a double barreled blast of the case for economic sanity. Highlights included Robert Borosage making a persuasive case that there is no going back to the "old economy" and Larry Mishel laying out how insecurity and broken labor markets have left us at the edge of the precipice. The idea that public good led to higher incomes was something known to "The New Liberalism" of the late 19th century, let alone to the 20th century.

There is empirical evidence from politics of how badly confused the American public is. While as much as 80% of the American public wants some kind of stimulus bill passed, the support for the stimulus bill being placed before them hovers in the mid-fifties. What makes this a sign of an economic dark age is the internals of that number. Only 51% of people in the Gallup poll thought a stimulus bill was "critically" important, and Rasmussen’s tracking poll has support improving but at 44%, still below half of the American public. What’s interesting is that 55% of Americans fear the bill is "too large." The reality is that the stimulus bill, as written right now, is almost certainly too small.

What is going on here is the "family budget fallacy." This is when people look at a national budget, and think as if it is their family budget. They think of family income, which they cannot do much to improve, and think that the country is the same way. Income rains down from someplace else, and if times are bad, the only thing to do is cut, cut, cut, and cut some more. However, this is exactly wrong. A country as a whole has a potential earning power, when output falls well below that number, borrowing to boost it back up increases the total income of the nation. The output that is created would not have happened otherwise.

The breadth of ignorance on this topic is astounding, consider that this factually inaccurate screed is on the first page of a search for "Keynesian Stimulus Theory." In fact, on that page, there is not one even neutral explanation for what, exactly, Keynes proposed. Instead, naked propaganda from people like Dick Morrisclutters the page. It’s worse, even, than searches on Darwinian evolution, which is famously cluttered with anti-science zealotry and exploded fallacies.

What Keynes argued is that in a severe enough downturn, people would save more than businesses wanted to invest. While real interest rates would fall, so too would future profits. If the contraction in what he calledaggregate demand was sharp enough, it would mean that interest rates would have to be negative to attract enough willingness to borrow. This means that instead of unemployment and savings reducing prices enough to eventually encourage businesses to hire and borrow to invest, the two would reinforce each other: falling prices would mean falling willingness to take risks, which would lead to more unemployment and more fear. Keynes proposed in the 1930’s that a insufficiency of aggregate demand was the problem. To fix this problem, he argued, government would have to borrow and both invest and hire. This would create a stream of future revenue sufficient to make business willing to jump back in. This is the case for Keynesian Stimulus: to get private industry back in the game, to draw water from the well of an advanced economy, some times it was necessary to "prime the pump," a phrase that people who have never had to get water out of a frozen well might not understand these days, to get water flowing again.

Looking ahead we see that failure is a poison tree with many roots. To pick one that is evident now: the cult of "price stability" that gripped economic thought for a generation. In price stability inflation is kept very, very, very low, between 0% and 2%. However, what this has meant for the last decade, is that in the event of a downturn, there was very little room for reducing interest rates, that is monetary policy, and very little ability of governments to work off accumulated debt. Thus, when crisis came, we could not lower interest rates by much, nor are people comfortable adding to debt. In fact, we had to have annual military stimulus and 1% central bank interest rates just to maintain the expansion. It was a Red Queen’s race: we had to run as fast as we could just to stay in place.

What this means, beyond the current crisis, is that long term economic thinking needs to change, and the entire shape of the debate needs to change. What seemed like "safe" business logic of low interest rates, tax cuts, and thinking dominated by prudent budgeting, was, in fact, extremely reckless behavior, chancing that there would never be a downturn bad enough to force the government to slash interest rates and spend heavily. What it also means is something noted at the conference in various ways by almost every speaker at the conference: that public goods are good for the public. We saw the absence of understanding of this essential truth in the stimulus bill fight: many of the provisions stripped out paid for themselves, while many inserted in were almost pure cost and will have little positive effect. It is almost as if people facing a famine decide to beat their plowshares into coins, and hope to buy enough food from someone else.

Music Files

A new dwarf planet - the farthest yet found

'Most distant' Solar System object spied - BBC News

Another dwarf planet.  though  dwarf planet is going to be an anachronism,  because it does not depend on the size of the planet.  In our solar system,  probably,  it may be the case - but not in others.  The other point that should be made is that planets could have orbits that are quite extreme,  and we will get a chance to see new ones coming in to range.

Avedon says

Jean Sibelius

Jean Sibelius was a composer who created himself - and then recreated
himself again.  As a young man he was intimately involved with Finnish
revolutionary politics - writing *Finlandia* as an explicit patriotic ode,
one explicit enough to be banned by the Russian authorities who occupied
Finland.  He composed a choral symphony based on Finnish epic poems, but
was born into a family that spoke Swedish - as many did in Finland, and
was trained in the German speaking world.

Many people view him as an anti-modern, certainly Olin Downes, his greatest
proponent thought so.  But Sibelius himself was a "Modern" as it was
understood at the time, a competitor and collegue of Gustav Mahler, an
ambivelant admirer and defender of Arnold Schoenberg - and a Modern.

What do I mean by this? Jean Sibelius noted that his contemporaries "served
up a variety of mixed cocktails, while I serve cold pure water." No more
modern, and neo-classical, statement could be made.  And it was made before
the term, and the movement, were particularly clear.  Jean Sibelius was a
trail blazing modern, because he ruthlessly distilled his language.

Consider that at the beginning of his symphonic career, symphonies were
"supposed" to be 4 movements.  Beethoven was barely granted the 6th as
an exception - Liszt and Berlioz being the major exceptions, with a few
3 movement works of Mozart being labelled examples of the Italian still
in force.  In otherwords a symphony was 4 movements as a basic plan,
with grace granted for a few geniuses.  Mahler's massive symphonies
and Sibelius' compressed ones were the works that altered that equation.
Instead, they did for the Symphony what Beethoven's late quartets implied
- demanded that the form of any work be determined by its own internal
logic, however many or few movements that required.

Bernard Shaw commented on the evolutionary radicalism in Sibelius thus:
"While it is hard to say which key his symphonies are in, we will soon find
ourselves humming them none the less." Other writers were less charitable,
writing reviews which were scathing in their denunciations of his musical
language.  "A Gloss on Sibelius" being perhaps the most famous.

- - -

What was the cause of this?

Music, to be interpreted as "language" needs to have a regular pattern
of sound/rhythm combinations which create the expectation of position -
position in the small and large scale.  There is music for beginnings,
and music for endings.  The "grammar" of a musical language consists of
the means by which composers tell musicians where they are.  Contrapunctal
devices, cadences, arcs, systematic use of instrumentation - all of these,
by 1900, were evolved into an extended, but catagorisable, grammar.
Schoenberg caught hell for using an "uncataloged dissonance" - so precise
was the dictionary of chords.

The tonal vocabulary - as Schenker was later to diagram - consisted of
expansions of a single phrase to full size.  A single phrase would have
material which left that phrase and returned to it - making it possible
to grasp the whole of a movement out of its basic thematic groups.  This
system of diagramming of sonatas, though it has been obsolete for a hundred
years, remains with us to this day.  Schenker's insight was in seeing how
all chordal material is either an extension of a single note, a semitonal
step or a move in a cadential progression, while different in form,
Schoenberg's catagorical method acheives the same results.

Sibelius turned this language on its head - he simply refused to use the
common sign posts - instead replacing them with a language based on pedal
points and their large scale relationship to a network of themes and
sub-themes.  This allowed him to dispense with many of the complexities of
the tonality of his day, while keeping the ability to range freely among

Modernism has always had two contending impulses, one is to ever more
intricate uses of the subtlties of an existing language, the other is the
reduction of ornament.  Often the two are found in the same work - Klimt's
painting for example both searches for ever more complex use of color
tropes, and the reduction of extraneous detail to mere pattern.  20th
century poetry is, likewise, a field where the prosodic relationships grew
more and more complex, while the diction grew ever more towards simplicity.

- - -

I submit that some of the basis for the language Sibelius evolved comes
from the use of repetition in his source poems - which repeat fragmentary
groups of words and phrases, and, rather than expanding, reassemble these
fragments.  The reason for this pattern in the source material is fairly
obvious - since the poems were spoken, they were built on an epitaph
system, which is the common mechanism for all large scale oral poetry
anywhere, stock rhythmic elements were combined and recombined to produce
larger elements, which, in turn, were combined and recombined.

This means of thinking stands in stark contrast to literate systems, which
use symbolic tropes.  Spoken poetry's urlinie is the sound combination,
and a sounds kinship to other sounds.  Written poetry, each symbol stands
in its relationship to other symbols.  Music, in Sibelius' time, was
a symbolic language, where a chord or dissonance "meant" something in
relation to other works.  Spoken works offer relationship of material, but
each sound "means" based on its position, with the denotation of words
often being subsidiary to their rhytmical value.  Thus heroes are given
descriptions which do not fit the person, but fit the metrical line.

- - -

Mahler, for all his scope, did not vary far from the symbolic tonal system
of expansion.  He did not abandon the structural function of chords, even
in his last, unfinished, symphony.  One can scan the four lines of a Mahler
symphony from the score.

Sibelius, by contrast, while he returns to the Beethovenian pattern of
instrumentation, often does not have discernable lines - instead there
is a pulsation between one and four thematic areas which expands and
contracts.  This expansion and contraction is the same in every symphony,
and shows no appreciable difference among the last 4 symphonies.