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Yanis Varoufakis: How I became an erratic Marxist



What has Marx done for us?


Almost all schools of thought, including those of some progressive economists, like to pretend that, though Marx was a powerful figure, very little of his contribution remains relevant today. I beg to differ. Besides having captured the basic drama of capitalist dynamics, Marx has given me the tools with which to become immune to the toxic propaganda of neoliberalism. For example, the idea that wealth is privately produced and then appropriated by a quasi-illegitimate state, through taxation, is easy to succumb to if one has not been exposed first to Marx’s poignant argument that precisely the opposite applies: wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production and property rights that rely, for their reproduction, almost exclusively on false consciousness.

In his recent book Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, the historian of economic thought, Philip Mirowski, has highlighted the neoliberals’ success in convincing a large array of people that markets are not just a useful means to an end but also an end in themselves. According to this view, while collective action and public institutions are never able to “get it right”, the unfettered operations of decentralised private interest are guaranteed to produce not only the right outcomes but also the right desires, character, ethos even. The best example of this form of neoliberal crassness is, of course, the debate on how to deal with climate change. Neoliberals have rushed in to argue that, if anything is to be done, it must take the form of creating a quasi-market for “bads” (eg an emissions trading scheme), since only markets “know” how to price goods and bads appropriately. To understand why such a quasi-market solution is bound to fail and, more importantly, where the motivation comes from for such “solutions”, one can do much worse than to become acquainted with the logic of capital accumulation that Marx outlined and the Polish economist Michal Kaleckiadapted to a world ruled by networked oligopolies.

In the 20th century, the two political movements that sought their roots in Marx’s thought were the communist and social democratic parties. Both of them, in addition to their other errors (and, indeed, crimes) failed, to their detriment, to follow Marx’s lead in a crucial regard: instead of embracing liberty and rationality as their rallying cries and organising concepts, they opted for equality and justice, bequeathing the concept of freedom to the neoliberals. Marx was adamant: The problem with capitalism is not that it is unfair but that it is irrational, as it habitually condemns whole generations to deprivation and unemployment and even turns capitalists into angst-ridden automata, living in permanent fear that unless they commodify their fellow humans fully so as to serve capital accumulation more efficiently, they will cease to be capitalists. So, if capitalism appears unjust this is because it enslaves everyone; it wastes human and natural resources; the same production line that pumps out remarkable gizmos and untold wealth, also produces deep unhappiness and crises.

Having failed to couch a critique of capitalism in terms of freedom and rationality, as Marx thought essential, social democracy and the left in general allowed the neoliberals to usurp the mantle of freedom and to win a spectacular triumph in the contest of ideologies.


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10 companies control the food industry


Only 10 companies control almost every large food and beverage brand in the world.

These companies — Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg's, Mars, Associated British Foods, and Mondelez — each employ thousands and make billions of dollars in revenue every year.

In an effort to push these companies to make positive changes — and for customers to realize who controls the brands they're buying — Oxfam created a mind-boggling infographic that shows how interconnected consumer brands really are



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Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us

Kate Raworth


It is time to ditch the belief that economies obey rigid mechanical rules, which has widened inequality and polluted our planet


Finally, a breakthrough alternative to growth economics – the doughnut

Instead of growth at all costs, a new economic model allows us to thrive while saving the planet








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In economics, various examples of positive feedback leading to alternative stable states have been identified. Perhaps most important to  human society is the positive feedback in wealth that may cause a rich and a poor state to be alternative attractors." 
The traditional economic view is that wealth is determined basically by effort.
If you work hard enough, you become rich. Indeed, numerous success stories illustrate how famous people who started out poor achieved great  wealth through hard work. Unfortunately, those belong to the same category as the stories of chain smokers reaching old age in good health. They are the exception to the rule. For instance, in the United States, famous for its trust in equal opportunities, a son born to parents in the poorest 10% of the population is 24 times more likely to stay in that poorest group as an adult than to end up as one of the 10% highest income earners." A bimodal pattern of wealth is apparent not only for individuals, but also on various other scales. There are rich and poor countries, and this pattern has remained remarkably persistent over time. Similarly, within countries, there are often contrasting rich and poor groups, and within cities, there can be a distinction between persistently rich and poor neighborhoods. Traditional economic theory has difficulties explaining such patterns. Free trade should tend to equalize the wage rates of trading partners, and general regression to the mean should smooth unequal income distributions. 
But apparently this does not happen. More recently, new theories have emerged that may explain persistent poverty. They have addressed the puzzling existence of apparent poverty traps on various scales showing how poor economies may fail to develop altogether, why subgroups in rich economies may fail to share prosperity, and why a poor person may be unable to accumulate capital in a given society.'' The overall image is that a number of different mechanisms may be involved. For instance, on the level of countries, corruption and organized crime may keep entire societies in an impoverished state, and for various other reasons, poor economies may simply be unable to produce the level of human and physical capital to achieve a certain kind of economic organization needed to escape the poor state. Within societies, positive feedback may maintain inequality in power and wealth. At 
the individual or family level, income may all be needed for food and shelter, allowing no investment in education or setting up a small business. Although the issue is complex, many of the models in this field lead to the prediction of a threshold of poverty that separates the poverty trap from an alternative richer condition.
Critical Transitions in Nature and Society,
by Marten Scheffer



para na paru...

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Energy is important in commerce, technology, the environment, climate, and life. For example, a country’s standard of living, reflected approximately by its gross domestic product (GDP) per person, is correlated with its energy utilization per person. A person in one of the poorest countries adds $1000 to that country’s annual GDP and uses around 200 W. A person in one of the richest countries adds $35,000 dollars to its GDP and uses about 11 kW. The GDP, which is a measure of a nation’s income and output, depends on building, manufacturing, transportation, and services that rely on motors, pumps, engines, generators, batteries, heating, cooling, and energy interconversion of all types. In 2005, the worldwide human ‘consumption’ of energy was 487 exajoules (1 EJ = 1018 J) or 139 petawatt-hours (1 PW h = 1015 W h). Because energy is conserved, the term consumption or energy usage here just means that energy is converted from one form that can be readily captured and stored to another form that cannot. For example, car engines convert the chemical covalent bond energy in hydrocarbons to the work of moving the car and to heating its surroundings. About 80% of the planet’s energy currently comes from the covalent bonds of hydrocarbons—oil, gas, and coal; . These are called nonrenewable sources because they are not readily replaceable. Because the world’s oil supplies are finite (estimated in 2008 to be about 1 yottajoule (1 YJ = 1024 J), and being depleted at a substantial rate, there are efforts to find renewable sources of energy and to use nonrenewable sources wisely and efficiently. Systematic advances in thermodynamics have led to increases in efficiencies, from 5% in the steam engines of T. Newcomen and J. Watt 200 years ago to more than 50% in today’s fuel cells. 



You are energetically equivalent to a light bulb. A typical adult eats about 2000 kcal per day (1 ‘food Calorie’ equals 1 kilocalorie). Converting units, you see that this would power a 100 W light bulb: (2000 kcal/ day )= (2×106 cal /day)( 4.184 J /cal )(1 W /J s−1 )(1 day /3600·24 s) = 97 W

 This 100 W light bulb energy expenditure per person is a useful reference quantity. People in poor nations contribute about twice their body’s energy consumption to their country’s GDP, while people in richer nations contribute about 100 times their consumption. 



A major source of energy influx to the Earth is electromagnetic radiation. The Earth receives almost all of its energy from sunlight, about 3.83 YJ per year, or 174 petawatts (PW).

How much of the Earth’s solar energy budget do humans consume? Divide the 487 EJ annual consumption rate above by the total energy from the Sun, 3.83 YJ per year, to get 487×1018 J 3.83×1024 J = 0.012%  We consume only a small fraction of the Earth’s total solar energy.


Molecular Driving Forces: Statistical Thermodynamics in Biology, Chemistry ...

By Ken Dill, Sarina Bromberg 




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For the past 150 years, economics has been treated as a social science in which economies are modeled as a circular flow of income between producers and consumers.  In this “perpetual motion” of interactions between firms that produce and households that consume, little or no accounting is given of the flow of energy and materials from the environment and back again.  In the standard economic model, energy and matter are completely recycled in these transactions, and economic activity is seemingly exempt from the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  As we enter the second half of the age of oil, and as energy supplies and the environmental impacts of energy production and consumption become major issues on the world stage, this exemption appears illusory at best.


In Energy and the Wealth of Nations, concepts such as energy return on investment (EROI) provide powerful insights into the real balance sheets that drive our “petroleum economy.” Hall and Klitgaard explore the relation between energy and the wealth explosion of the 20th century, the failure of markets to recognize or efficiently allocate diminishing resources, the economic consequences of peak oil, the EROI for finding and exploiting new oil fields, and whether alternative energy technologies such as wind and solar power meet the minimum EROI requirements needed to run our society as we know it. This book is an essential read for all scientists and economists who have recognized the urgent need for a more scientific, unified approach to economics in an energy-constrained world, and serves as an ideal teaching text for the growing number of courses, such as the authors’ own, on the role of energy in society.




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Braudel on Capitalism, or Everything Upside Down



Femand Braudel asked us to take seriously the concept of capitalism as a way of organizing and analyzing the history of the modem world, at least since the fifteenth century. He was not alone in this view, of course. But his approach must be said to have been an unusual one, for he developed a theoretical framework which went against the two theses that both of the two great antagonistic worldviews of the nineteenth century, classical liberalism and classical Marxism, considered central to their approach. First, most liberals and most Marxists have argued that capitalism involved above all the establishment of a free, competitive market. Braudel saw capitalism instead as the system of the antimarket (contremarche'). Second, liberals and most Marxists have argued that capitalists were the great practitioners of economic specialization. Braudel believed instead that the essential feature of successful capitalists was their refusal to specialize. 

Thus, Braudel viewed capitalism in a way that, in the eyes of most of his colleagues, could only be termed seeing it "upside down." I shall try to expound clearly what I take to be Braudel's central arguments and then attempt to analyze the implications of this reconceptualization for present and future work and to assess its importance.
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Mark Blyth


He is best known for his critique of austerityAusterity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, described by Salon and AlterNet as "necessary reading" and as simultaneously functioning as an economics explainer, a polemic, and a history book offering "insight into austerity’s lineage, its theories, its champions and its failures." Blyth characterized the argument advanced by austerity advocates as "a canard" and "complete horseshit."


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