Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Great news for us old Keynesians

by techno Thu Jul 10th, 2008 at 11:05:15 AM EST

The Associated Press reported (on Friday June 6, 2008) that the International Energy Agency claims a serious effort to combat global warming will cost $45 trillion.  I happen to think this is an underestimate.  But the idea is very good.  And if we run the global economy with sound economic policy, such a project could lead to the greatest prosperity in human history.

Good ol' Diary Rescue by Migeru

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The "wisdom" from Washington

by techno Sun Jun 29th, 2008 at 04:20:38 AM EST

I was recently visited by a cousin who spent his working life in the higher reaches of the USA's permanent government, including policy positions in the Office of Management and Budget and the Commerce Department.  He's about seven years older than I and I once thought he was probably the smartest guy in the world.  He has a law degree, is quite tall (198 cm) and very handsome.  All in all, the kind of guy you debate at your peril.

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An Update on Industrial-Environmentalism

by techno Sun Jun 22nd, 2008 at 02:40:58 AM EST

When my book "Elegant Technology" was published in late 1992, I included a claim--on the COVER--that Industrial Redesign was the preferred environmental strategy of Japan and Western Europe.*  Oh, the flak I took for that.  The real estate bubble had just popped in Japan and the gloating in the financial press in USA was so intense, the idea that Japan had anything to teach us was considered laughable.  I even wished I could redo the cover because in the post-bubble Japan, the changed intellectual atmosphere would destroy sales.

Funny how predictions based on Institutional Analysis turn out.

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Creating the new "conventional wisdom"

by techno Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 11:55:15 AM EST

Oil--how can anyone accurately value something irreplaceable?

The conventional wisdom of sustainable economics.

The other day, I wrote a comment on the subject of public protests and other vehicles for social change that was, to put it mildly, warmly received. I suggested that Eurotrib filled an important function because it existed to challenge the convention "wisdom" on an important intellectual level and cited Jerome's crusade to call Neoliberalism by it's more accurate name--Anglo Disease.  I suggested that if we had 20 ideas just as good, we would change the world.

WE are the people we have been waiting for! - Promoted by Migeru

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Topping it off

by techno Wed Mar 19th, 2008 at 04:30:47 AM EST

[editor's note, by Migeru] Originally published on March 10th

Our little historic preservation got a finishing touch last Thursday.  We placed the finial atop the little church building at Valley Grove.  This building was erected with hand tools and local materials by the people that Thorstein Veblen would immortalize in his 1914 opus Instinct of Workmanship.

It's not bragging if it's well-deserved - Promoted by Migeru

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The Greatest Generation--economics division

by techno Thu Mar 13th, 2008 at 04:09:28 AM EST

I have fulfilled a New Year resolution.  Last Fall I was given a book to read called "Don't Make Me Think" about designing effective navigation schemes for websites.  By the time I got to the end, I was convinced my website needed a serious redesign.

I have 39 video clips and 24 .pdf files on my site. And like Institutional Economics, it sprawls over a lot of subjects.  Much of my traffic appears through other than the splash page. And there are many links from the outside I do not want broken.  So the redesign took over 60 days.  And occasionally I took time to edit an old favorite paper.  So please visit my new-look site and enjoy my re-edited essay below.

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The Assumptions of Bankers Prove Utterly Absurd

by techno Thu Jan 31st, 2008 at 04:54:03 AM EST

The second Fed rate cut in nine days is obviously much too little, much too late.  And listening to the cable show talking heads reveals why this is so.  You see, the Fed is at least 30 YEARS behind the curve.  The chattering classes think they are only several months.

Let's review.  The folks with the power to set monetary policy are institutionally predisposed towards the notions of "sound money."  For them, the only possible economic sin is inflation.  And the only weapon worth considering in the fight against inflation is naked usury.  

The problem with using monetary policy to fight the "inflations" caused by a run-up in energy prices is that the bankers cannot change the facts on the ground.  

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Truth in the age of the Internet

by techno Mon Sep 10th, 2007 at 06:59:45 AM EST

One of the more famous quotations of the Bible is found in John 18:38

Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all. (King James Version)

Millions of sermons have been based on this text because the easy message is that even an educated and cynical Roman governor could see that the Christ embodied truth.  This has spawned a millions critiques pointing out the dangers of equating religious dogma with the truth.

The world-weary what-is-truth sigh is often seen as a rite of passage that a student must go through to become a well-educated citizen.  I had a college roommate who spent several weeks and expended MUCH energy writing a philosophy paper that "proved" he did not exist.  When I asked him if the paper he was showing me wasn't in fact proof of his existence, he looked at me as if I were a heathen who would never get into the club he so desperately wanted to join.

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In time for Labor Day, a reason to discuss Class

by techno Sun Sep 2nd, 2007 at 04:52:13 PM EST

Class analysis is most commonly practiced by the political left.  In fact, many consider class analysis a Marxist practice to this day.  I personally never found Marxist class analysis very satisfying because I could think of so many examples that did not fit into his scheme.  That did not, however, stop my interest in the subject.

So when I discovered in my early 30s that my favorite political economist, Thorstein Veblen, had postulated a VERY non-Marxist class analysis that described social reality much better than Marx ever did, I was quite excited.  Veblen's class analysis was several orders of magnitude more complex and nuanced and came buried in an even more complicated intellectual strategy called Institutional Analysis, so it is sometimes difficult to separate out.

What follows is my best estimate of Veblen's ideas--described with modern examples.  For example, the Business / Industry dichotomy is Veblen's.  Calling it an example of a rivalry between Predators and Producers is mine--with a hat tip to Ignatius Donnelley.

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Advice sought on windpower

by techno Mon Aug 27th, 2007 at 05:52:39 AM EST

I live next to the state of South Dakota.  A look at a wind map would leave almost anyone drooling at the possibilities for making some serious money harvesting all that energy.

The state is sparsely populated (less than 600,000 folks on around 75,000 square miles of land.)  The topography is bleak and only the most sentimental could ever raise objection to wind development on aesthetic grounds.  Any economic development would be welcome.

At least 100 gigawatts of renewable power is just waiting to be harvested in a place with roads and honest governments.  Compared to building offshore, construction is absurdly easy

So the question is, how would a project to build 200,000 5mw wind turbines actually be organized?

Good discussion & resources - from the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Money and Credit Crunches

by techno Sun Aug 19th, 2007 at 07:26:19 AM EST

Anyone who witnessed James Cramer screaming on his MSNBC show that Ben Bernanke should open the discount window, got a brief look at how serious monetary discussions can get.

For most of us, Cramer could have been ranting in Urdu. Monetary discussions are designed to be difficult to understand. But not to fear, understanding money is pretty simple.

Sunday afternoon reading from the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Smiles of a Summer Night

by techno Tue Aug 14th, 2007 at 10:17:16 AM EST

In the fall of 1967, I had just turned 18 and was a freshman at the University of Minnesota.  This was a land-grant school with 45,000 students.  I had lived virtually all of my childhood in villages smaller than 2000 people.  I was in a state of near shock.

It wasn't merely the size.  I was choirboy from a devout Lutheran parsonage.  Literally.  The only organization I joined that made complete sense to me was the university's chorus.  I knew nothing about popular culture--our family didn't have television until I was a high school sophomore, we were not allowed to go to movies, and "rock and roll" music had never been played in the house.

The local campus movie house was showing the films that they thought all good folks should see.  They were the works of the heavy hitters--François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, and Ingmar Bergman.  One night, a group from my dorm decided to attend a showing of "Sjunde inseglet, Det" ("The Seventh Seal").  I wasn't so certain I should start going to movies until someone reassured me that Bergman was also a Lutheran preacher's kid.  So off I went.

From the diaries - afew

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Economics and Falling Bridges

by techno Thu Aug 9th, 2007 at 05:39:28 AM EST

Not surprisingly, the word of a large bridge (8 lanes, 150,000+ vehicles a day) collapsing in Minneapolis has spread around the globe.  And for good reason.  Forty-year-old bridges are NOT supposed to fail.

I supposed I could have written this sooner.  But quite frankly, I am embarrassed as hell.  This is NOT the sort of reputation we want.  This state is a creation of mostly Scandinavians and Germans--the kind of people who treat maintenance as an art form.

I am part of this near-religious cult of maintenance.  I have restored old buildings.  I have kept a car running far past its normal life.

From the diaries - afew

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The Beauty of Windpower

by techno Wed Aug 1st, 2007 at 10:06:53 AM EST

First posted at dkos
Poor Jerome had to come into the comments and debate the turbines-are-bad-because-they-kill-birds types (thanks).


Recently, I got into another (pointless) debate about whether wind turbines were "eyesores."  Debating aesthetics is hard enough, but relying on clever sentences and hand gestures is impossible.

So I went and found some footage I have on wind turbines here in Minnesota and cut them together into a video I called "The Beauty of Windpower" and posted the thing on Youtube.  (running time 5:20)

From the diaries - afew

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How I spent my summer

by techno Fri Jul 20th, 2007 at 10:13:07 AM EST

"Your room really needs a paint job.  You do the prep work and I'll do the painting."  In my world, such an suggestion from my significant other sounded more like an offer I couldn't refuse.  The room really DID need paint--it hadn't been painted since the 60s, some paint was peeling, and there were minor cracks in the plaster.  And it is a small room measuring 3.3 x 3.9 meters.

How bad could this be?  (famous last words)  My, how projects get out of hand!

Appropriate for the weekend & August approaching! From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Solving my Transportation Problem (I hope)

by techno Wed May 30th, 2007 at 05:36:16 PM EST

When I was at the University of Minnesota, I had a job working in a consumer-level auto parts store--batteries, starters, exhaust systems, shocks, and other automotive consumables.  But it was 1969-70, the heyday of automotive muscle-car exuberance, so we also sold "speed" parts like oversized carburetors.  

To get hired, I had lied a bit about my automotive knowledge, so I spent those quiet winter evenings wandering through the parts catalogues to see what I could learn.  It was an astonishing experience.  The size and complexity of the automotive industry is simply mind-blowing.  

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Keeping one's hand in

by techno Sun May 27th, 2007 at 03:39:21 AM EST

Of all those great debates we were exposed to at the university level, the only one I still find interesting concerns how we learn.  As a published author, I probably should be a big proponent of reading books as the ultimate way to learn, but I don't actually believe that books are all that effective.  Given a choice for transmitting information, I would choose video in a heartbeat.  The reason video is so effective is that while books merely explain information, video forces you to DEMONSTRATE why you know something.

In between pure text and video are the various other forms of illustration--still pictures, drawings, graphs, mathematical formulas, etc.  In all these cases, however, these are only tools for transmitting findings between people.  They do NOT address the far more interesting question what methods work best for learning new information.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Now you know what it feels like to be an informed American

by techno Tue Apr 17th, 2007 at 03:21:57 PM EST

In the corner of my Platonic mind, I have a picture of the French.  In this picture, there are the high philosophers--Descartes is my favorite but there are many others.  There is the high rationalism that gave us the metric system.  There is the brilliant engineering that gave us the very vocabulary of aviation and TRAINS that blast along at 575 kph.  There is the very definition of style that has defined the word fashion since at least Louis XIV.  Oh yes, these people also enjoy eating and do it VERY well.

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The Lessons from the Veblen Farm:

by techno Sat Mar 17th, 2007 at 05:39:03 AM EST

the Origins of Thorstein Veblen's Social Thought

Yes, I know I just did a diary on Veblen, but I am going to keep working at it until I get right.  The last one raised the sort of scholarly questions that need answers.  And I especially felt I should do something to thank DeAnander for actually typing the Dos Passos essay on Veblen.

We live in a very conservative age.  This is not so much a triumph of the great conservative philosophers as the collapse of a meaningful alternative.  From 1917 until 1989, the main opposition to global capitalism was organized by the most militant followers of Karl Marx.  The fact that these people were murderous thugs, industrial bunglers, and environmental rapists meant that most people of good will cheered their demise.

The triumph of the Marxists was unfortunate in a host of ways for many of those who would criticize unfettered capitalism.  Before 1917, there were dozens of theories of how to construct a meaningful alternative.  But after the Bolsheviks shot their way into power, none of the others was treated seriously.  Why should they have been?  The Bolsheviks had succeeded where the others had failed so the natural tendency was to rally around the champion.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Veblen--a political economist for today

by techno Fri Feb 23rd, 2007 at 05:17:42 AM EST

"The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than it is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist."
John Maynard Keynes

Thorstein Veblen

Anyone wishing to make sense of the world will eventually have to spend some serious time studying the often dreary subject of economics.  Economics is the only subject that people are so passionate about that they are quite willing to start wars and revolutions over the various interpretations of their economic worldview.

Of course, modern economics as taught in our finest universities has very little to do with the economic arguments that start revolutions.  The modern economist has probably best been described as someone without the charisma to become an accountant.  

From the diaries -- whataboutbob

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