The Crisis in Economic Theory

Michael Harrington (podium) at the 1980 Thomas – Debs Dinner in Chicago. Seated to his right is that year’s honoree, Rosemary Ruether. Seated to his left are Rev. Jim Gorman and Crystal Lee Sutton. Photo by Syd Harris.

This is another of the cassette tapes from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) national office. While I found the content interesting, it also had some mild historical interest, being a presentation by Michael Harrington to a gathering of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) [update] on June 16 of 1980. I’d guess it was the DSOC Youth Section’s annual summer conference. DSOC was one of the predecessors to DSA, the other being the New American Movement.

The quality of the recording is adequate, especially as it may have been done from the audience. It is missing the first minute of the program, and there is another more irritating section of really dead air about two-thirds in. I don’t know who the person recording this was and any specific venue would be but a guess.

I found the presentation interesting in two ways. One is that apparently Keynesian economic policy has not always worked as advertised. Harrington nominates business cycles as a possible explanation. Maybe, though I don’t find that idea particularly exciting. An institutional or even academic memory of this misfire of Keynesianism of a sort, however, is of interest. IMHO. The other thing is: what a topic to present to an organizational meeting of a political group. That leaves a bit, good and bad, to unpack.

(Length — 56:41)

An Old Soul…

Begins to Resemble a Ficus.

Do us the favor of moving us into a sunny corner from the neglected shade, and we return the favor by losing more leaves. No… get away from me with that watering can. I’m near enough to drowning as it is.

But that was almost my reaction to an email received last week announcing laundry utopia!! Put away those quarters: Now you can (you must) use a chipped debit or credit card. You can also use your phone by downloading this handy app that will even inform you when the machine is done. And, oh yes… lest we forget… the price of a washer or dryer, once a dollar, is now $1.75.

Well heck. It’s been a dollar for at least a dozen years.*

Even so, anxiety is an interesting reaction to this. It was accompanied by a deep feeling of alienation, almost disembodiment; I’ve never before felt (even temporarily) so elderly and disconnected.

Some of this is simply the new payment modes. And that may be more symbolic than anything else. After all, a currency-less economy has been creeping up on us all my life. Public transit excepted, I’ve never become accustomed to charging small amounts on plastic. It’s a pain in the butt to keep track of, there are security issues, and somehow it doesn’t seem like money. Still, it’s not something new. For the past several years, it’s not been unusual for me to spend less than $20 in cash over a month, apart from laundry. But just for that moment while reading the email, the situation seemed deeply alien.**

The other part is to wonder, if this doesn’t work, am I still physically able to schlep a week’s washing the half-mile or so to the laundromat? (Yeah, probably, if I get a cart. Bloody inconvenient. And preferably put-off until after the plague.)

This week’s washing went okay. Both the old and the new machines are “Speed Queen” brand. The new equipment is slightly smaller than the old but not enough to make much of a difference. The new washers worked not quite as well as the old (design compromises re: energy and water efficiencies, I think, and not unexpected) while the new dryers were a definite improvement, including a feature to purchase an extra ten minutes for twenty-five cents (pricing bound by now useless quarters). It’ll be interesting to see how this all gets listed on my credit card bill, especially as no receipts are provided. I also see some possibilities for overflowing the laundry tubs, if I can get all three washers working in phase.

* Did you catch this? It’s really the most interesting part of the whole story. The seventy-five cent increase is outrageous, of course. If the price followed the urban consumer price index from September of 2008, it should have been an increase closer to twenty-five cents. But in this digital age, why should we be bound by quarters? A simple inflation adjustment would only be an increase of nineteen cents. But not only was the laundry management greedy with an increase of four times that, they were also bound by quarters.

** Just to rub it in, there is this story posted on October 28 by Almaz Kumenov at eurasianet:

A technical failure suffered by a popular payment service in Kazakhstan momentarily caused headaches for retailers and consumers alike, while showing at the same time how much the population has come to embrace non-cash transactions.

Users of the Kaspi mobile application noticed the trouble on the morning of October 28, when they were unable to withdraw money, make payments or top up their accounts.

It would have gone mostly unnoticed if this had been a glitch at a regular bank – those happen all the time in Kazakhstan. But this is a service that around one-third of the population uses regularly.

As has become customary, flustered Kaspi users took to social media to vent. Some posted pictures showing ATM screens showing unimaginably large tenge figures, running into the trillions. (One million Kazakh tenge currently buy around $2,300). Others complained they were unable to pay for taxi rides or for their groceries. On a lighter note, one meme showing a group of hapless cavepeople without Kaspi did the rounds to illustrate just how much Kazakhs have come to rely on their beloved cash apps and cards.