Monthly Archives: October 2011

Goethe on Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz

Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz

One is aware of that species of self-torture which, in the absence of any external or social constraints, was then the order of the day, afflicting precisely those possessed of most exceptional minds. Things which torment ordinary people only in passing and which, because unengaged in self-contemplation, they seek to banish from their thoughts, were instead acutely registered and observed by the better sort, and set down in books, letters, and diaries. But now the strictest moral demands placed upon oneself and others were commingled with an extreme negligence in one’s own actions, and the vague notions arising out of this semi-self-knowledge encouraged the strangest proclivities and most outlandish behavior.  This unremitting work of self-contemplation was further abetted by the rise of empirical psychology, which, if unwilling to describe anything that causes us inner unrest as wicked or reprehensible, could nonetheless not entirely condone it; and thus was set into motion a permanent, irresoluble state of conflict. Of all the full- or half-time idlers intent on digging into their innermost depths, Lenz excelled in cultivating and perpetuating this state of conflict, and thus he suffered in general from that tendency of the age to which the depiction of Werther was meant to put a stop; but he was cut from a different cloth, which set him apart from all the others, whom one had to admit were thoroughly open, decent creatures. He, by contrast, had a decided propensity for intrigue, indeed, for intrigue pure and simple, without any particular goal in view, be it reasonable, personal, or attainable; on the contrary, he was always concocting some twisted scheme, whose very contortions were enough to keep him wholly entertained. In this way, throughout his life his fancies played him for a rascal, his loves were as imaginary as his hates, he juggled his ideas and feelings at whim, so that he would always have something to do. By these topsy-turvy means, he would attempt to impart reality to his sympathies and antipathies, and then would himself destroy this creation again; and so he was never of use to anybody he loved, nor did he ever do harm to anybody he hated, and in general he seemed only to sin in order to punish himself, only to intrigue in order to graft some new fiction onto an old one.

His talent, in which delicacy, agility, and extreme subtlety all vied with each other, proceeded from a genuine depth, from an inexhaustible creative power, but, for all its beauty, there was something thoroughly unhealthy about it, and it is precisely talents such are these that are the most difficult to evaluate. One cannot fail to appreciate the outstanding features of his works; they are suffused with by something quite sweet and tender, but this is intermixed with instances of buffoonery so baroque and so asinine that, even in a sense of humor this all-pervasive and unassuming, even in a comic gift this genuine, they can hardly be pardoned. His days were occupied by airy nothings to which, ever assiduous, he managed to give meaning, and if he was able to idle away his hours in this fashion, it was because, given his outstanding memory, the time he actually devoted to reading always proved to be most fruitful, enriching his original way of thinking with a great variety of materials.

_

Lenz eventually came to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, which inspired Georg Büchner to write a speculative biographical novella based on the diaries of Johann Friedrich Oberlin, at whose house Lenz lodged for a period of three weeks as his mental health steadily deteriorated. I post the above excerpt here due to its incisive analysis of Lenz’s personality, which I admire both for its perspicaciousness and the way it highlights Lenz’s relation to the Romantic zeitgeist.  As well, Deleuze & Guattari refer to Lenz in the opening pages of Anti-Oedipus. See here for an excellent synopsis of Lenz’s life and place within schizoanalysis.

The Economic Unconscious

“One approach to determining whether the disincentive effect of income taxation on labor supply is important is to study the behaviour of workers in different countries with different income tax systems and see what we observe. In an article in the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank Quarterly Review,1 Edward Prescott does just that.  Prescott studies the G-7 countries, which are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and examines two periods of time, which are 1970-1974 and 1993-6.  One key feature of the data that Prescott focuses on is that, in the earlier period, labour supplied per person was about the same in France, Germany, and Italy as it was in the United States. However, by the 1990s, Americans were working about twice as hard (in hours worked per person) as their counterparts in France, Germany, and Italy.

What could account for this difference in labour supply behaviour between the United States and Europe?  Possibly Europeans just like vacations more than Americans do (indifference curves are different in the U.S. from Europe), or market wages (before taxes) are higher in the United States than in Europe.  Prescott argues that the major reason for this difference in labour supply behaviour is differences in marginal tax rates.  That is, in real-world income tax systems, typically the tax rate varies with the level of income.  For example, in Canada and the United States the poor are taxed at a lower rate than are the rich. The marginal tax rate is the tax rate paid on the last dollar of income that a person earns, and this is the tax rate that matters for that person’s behaviours.  In France, Germany, and Italy, in the period 1993-1996, the marginal tax rate for the average person was about 60%, compared to 40% in the United States. For this to matter for labour supply behaviour, it would have to be the case that there is a very large substitution effect[*] of a change in the real wage on the quantity of labour supplied, relative to the income effect[**].  Prescott measures these effects and finds that, indeed, the measured substitution effect is very large.

How could Prescott’s findings matter to us as economists?  One example he uses relates to social security systems. […] The type of social security system in place in the United States is a ‘pay-as-you-go’ system, which funds payments to retirees from taxes collected from the working-age population. If Prescott’s results are correct, economic efficiency could be improved greatly could be improved greatly by moving from pay-as-you-go to an alternative social security system that does not tax workers at such high rates, thus increasing the quantity of labour supplied.  The Canada Pension Plan (CPP), which is Canada’s social security system, is actually a hybrid system that incorporates features of pay-as-you-go and so-called fully funded plans….  Prescott’s analysis would tend to imply that the CPP is more economically efficient than U.S. Social Security, as it does less to discourage labour supply.”

——————————

1E. Prescott, 2004, “Why Do Americans Work So Much More Than Europeans?” Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank Quarterly 28, No. 1, 2-13.

Williamson, S. (2010). Macroeconomics, 3rd Ed. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, pg. 108-9.

_

*Substitution Effect – The effect of a change in price of a good or service on the quantity bought when the consumer (hypothetically) remains indifferent between the original and the new consumption situations―that is, the consumer remains on the same indifference curve.

**Income Effect – The effect of a change in income on consumption, other things remaining the same.

OccupyCanada Protests Have Begun

Since I do not have much new information as of now, this post will mostly be a link roundup for those searching for more information about OccupyToronto and the various other occupations going on throughout Canada.

For those who have not read my previous post, it outlines the preliminary responses to OTME, as well as some of OTME’s initial planning.

OccupyToronto’s main site is located here.  One of its writers, NoahType (who makes clear, of course, that he cannot speak for the entire group), promises a series of posts directed against “Finance Capital,” of which this is the first installment.  The second installment here takes an explicitly orthodox Marxist approach, e.g. quoting Žižek on the labor theory of value.  This post by BenT argues strongly in favor of greater income equality, excerpting from OWS’s Declaration the portions which are said to apply to Canada as well, as well as adding concerns which apply particularly to Canada.

Once again, here are their Facebook and Twitter pages.

OccupyToronto’s Livestream site is located here, where live video footage is being broadcast by the protesters.

The page by Anonymous on Occupy Bay Street is here, which unregistered viewers should be able to browse, as long as they ignore the watermark in the center.  One of its members directs people to the video The Crime of the Canadian Banking System by Bill Abram.

This is the most comprehensive article I have yet come across, which gives numbers for how many people went to each protest, including the shocking fact that 950 cities in 82 countries are taking part in the “Occupy the Globe” protests.  The article also includes a brief statement by Bob Rae as well as an excerpt of a speech delivered by Wikileaks’ Julian Assange at the protests in London, England.

This article from CTV is a somewhat watered-down version of the last (though with several different elements), briefly outlining some of the similar movements going on in other countries (e.g. Australia, Bosnia,  Germany, Italy, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and China) as well as listing the various cities in which protests are taking place, which include Calgary, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Fredericton, Moncton, Guelph, Windsor, Kingston, London, Nanaimo, Courtenay, Duncan, Kelowna, Kamloops and Nelson, B.C., Lethbridge, Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa, with the largest protest being in Toronto.  Apparently the Toronto occupation is taking place in St. James Park.

As well, this site seems like an interesting news source to keep an eye on.

For those planning to participate in the Toronto protests, the ‘March Marshalls’ who are in charge of organizing the marches will be wearing orange arm bands.  Furthermore, those who are arrested are advised to call 416-833-6137.

On the whole, the news reports regarding the protests tend to be superficial and dismissive. (See here for a response to this article by the Toronto Sun.)

Interestingly, Rick Mercer has no comment, as far as I can tell.  He’s currently in Vancouver, and has been invited to join the “real Canadians” at OccupyVancouver, but has given no response.  His next show will air on CBC at 8:00pm this Tuesday, so perhaps he will have a formidable Rick Rant ready by then.

Lastly, I thought that I ought to highlight some of Canadian social issues which I can think of offhand that have not been prominently advertised on the OTME website:

  • The Catholic school board (which is constitutionally illegal, since no other religion or denomination possesses their own school board)
  • The 29% gender wage gap in Ontario last year, 10-15% of which was explicitly due to discrimination. See here for more details.
  • Canada’s environmental standards, which are lower than most other comparatively developed nations (and which, as Elizabeth May has pointed out, are illegal given the terms of the Kyoto Accord).
  • According to my sources, following graduation, the administrators of OSAP student loans provide a year without interest to pay the loan back, and then begin to charge 22% interest, which amounts to hundreds of dollars spent each month without even touching the principal. If this is true, then this is usury in the highest degree, which is an entirely despicable practice for a government to engage in.
  • The excessive amount of asbestos throughout Ontario.

Here is my major piece of advice to OTME: start a We Are The 99% Canada Tumblr page similar to the ones for the USA & the UK.  (See here for a magnificent statistical interpretation of the data from the American site.)  If Harper and Flaherty dismiss OccupyCanada with the statement that Canada’s situation is nothing like that of America, then a site like this will provide tangible proof of Canada’s discontent.

**Note: Regarding the frivolous pseudo-philosophical blog entries which have lately been appearing here, I wrote them weeks ago, but forgot to change their scheduled publishing dates. I’m quite embarrassed by them.

Guattari’s Haiku on the Butoh Dancer Min Tanaka


diagrams of intensities
at the intersection of all the scenes of the possible
choreography of desire’s throw of the dice
on a continuous line since birth
becoming irreversible of rhythms and refrains of a
haiku-event
I dance not in the place but I dance the place
Min Tanaka
the body weather

~Guattari, excerpt from ‘Présentation du programme de danse Buto de Min Tanaka’ (AH 159).

lol wut?

This and this group butoh dance are both interesting, however, if for no other reason than being sublimely fucked up. I’m not normally one to use strong language, but no other term will do. Both dances are by the troupe Sankai Juku. I’m totally pulling out these moves the next time I’m at a nightclub.

The Ontology of the Commons

[This is an assignment for my Environmental Politics class, which I think is interesting enough post here. My first answer is a sort of immanent critique of ‘intrinsic value’ to show its emptiness as a concept. The second question is clearly anthropocentric, which is likely the part we’re meant to criticize, but I think it’s much more interesting to see how this simple statement forecloses any possible argument on its own terms. My third answer mostly paraphrases Debord, but it’s a nice example of how the terms of a question (i.e. historical revolution) often delimit the possible answers to it.]

1. Why is the notion of ‘the commons’ significant in terms of understanding the fundamental conflicts in the politics of the environment? (300 words)

McKenzie takes the following description as representative of ecocentrism:[1]

An ecocentric view sees the world as “an intrinsically dynamic, interconnected web of relations in which there are no absolute discrete entities and no absolute dividing lines between the living and the nonliving, the animate and the inanimate, or the human and the nonhuman.” In other words, all beings ― human and non-human ― possess intrinsic value.

Foreman includes inanimate objects (e.g. mountains) in McKenzie’s category of ‘beings’.[2] If this is the case, then all matter is intrinsically valuable. A true ecocentrist would then accept the proposition that all matter must be commons, since matter’s intrinsic value cannot be made into anyone’s property, and since there can be no moral argument that any instance of matter is not free to be utilized by any other instance of matter.

If it is true that at the quantum level all matter is energy, and if the first law of thermodynamics is true (energy cannot be created or destroyed), then it does not matter what form matter takes, even if it is entirely vaporized by nuclear warfare, since it, as energy, still exists, and still possesses ‘intrinsic value’. Thus it is impossible to not preserve the commons. Therefore, the moral ground for preserving the earth’s environment as we know it must be zoocentric or sentientist[3], both of which do not abstractly view humans as a subtype of matter, but deal with humans in their capacity as living beings, i.e. politically.[4] The function of Green political theory, then, is to delineate what constitutes the commons, since, as we have seen, if everything is taken to be commons, then it can just as well be said that nothing is a commons. Read the rest of this entry

“Keep Your Fucking Work/Life Balance.”

Though the video itself is quite silly, it helps to give an idea of the system of values in which Wall Street bankers operate.  I post this here as a plea for protesters not to attribute the origins of financial crises to concrete, humanistic causes (namely, the greed of bankers) alone, but to emphasize that the main problems are abstract & systemic ones. The video underscores (sacrilegious as it may sound to devoted Leftists) the fact that most Wall Street bankers are not exempt from the askesis displayed by those providing their testimonials here.

These bankers are caught in a wicked paradox where they can have all the wealth they could want, on the condition that they cannot enjoy it.  It is not uncommon for investment bankers on Wall Street to work 70+ hours a week (mostly on Excel or Powerpoint), nor is it uncommon for them to turn to ‘uppers’ (including cocaine) to boost their stamina in order to get through their work week, which may include multiple all-nighters.  Their bodies deteriorate from lack of exercise just as their minds stagnate from having no other stimulation besides basic mathematics, as well as from their lack of sleep; it is no wonder, then, that in their 3 hours of free time per week, investment bankers turn to alcohol, prostitutes, and superfluous purchases of luxury goods to make themselves feel as if they have some standing in the world. They have their basic needs taken care of, yes, but only on condition that they give up everything else, just as with the rest of the 99%.

Misconceptions About The Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is potentially useful as a measure of labor market tightness, which is the degree of difficulty firms face in hiring workers.  However, there are two ways in which the unemployment rate might mismeasure labour market tightness.  First, some people, referred to as discouraged workers, are not counted in the labor force[*] and have stopped searching for work but actually want to be employed.  Thus, during a long recession, when the level of aggregate economic activity is depressed for an extended period of time, it is possible that the unemployment rate might fall only because some unemployed people have become discouraged and stopped looking for work.  In this circumstance, labour market tightness would not really have increased with the decreased in the unemployment rate, but we might be fooled into thinking so.

The second factor that could cause the unemployment rate to be a bad measure of labour market tightness is that the unemployment rate does not adjust for how intensively the unemployed are searching for work.  Thus, it could be the case that when the unemployment rate is high, the unemployed do not search very hard for work, because they think their chances of success are low.  For example, each worker might spend only one or two hours per day trying to look for work.  However, when the unemployment rate is low, the unemployed might be searching very hard, because their prospects of success might seem good.  For example, each worker might search eight or ten hours per day.  If this were the case, we might actually think of a high unemployment rate as being associated with low labor market tightness.  For example, if a firm is looking to hire, it is more difficult to find workers if the unemployed are not looking hard for work.

Williamson, S. (2010). Macroeconomics, 3rd Ed. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, pg. 53.

_

*Note: To not be in the labor force means to be neither employed nor unemployed.  However, to be unemployed means to not have been employed during the past week but actively searched for work at some time during the last four weeks.  I have been told by an expert in personal finance that on average it takes a person eight weeks to find a new job after losing their old one; hence for the latter four weeks of being out of a job, they have technically dropped out of the labor force.  The amount of time needed to find a job tends to be much higher during a recession, thus one ought to take people’s quotations of the unemployment rate with a grain of salt.  For the record, the “jobless rate” is the same thing as the unemployment rate, i.e. subject to the same ambiguity.