Current News and Views in Economics: Capitalism as Power, Economics in Nouns and Verbs, and the McArthur Genius Award for Studies in Food Stamps
1. Capitalism as Power (CASP) is a ‘proto-discipline’ which seeks to replace neoclassical economics (the modern theory of capitalism) and Marxism with its own ‘school’ or words.
It can be viewed as an offshoot of ‘heterodox economics’ , which is what you get after you go from classical to neoclassical economics (by adding a ‘neo’) — these are considered ’orthodox’ — - and then you change a few things or words in that to get ‘heterodox economics’. They called it that because they didn’t have a name for it (though some suggested post-Keynesian economics).
Now (or for quite a while) some suggest one replace all these terms with the theory of ‘Capital as Power’.
The theory in a nutshell (in my view) is
1. All there is of interest to humans is Capital — which is the name for the universe or world humans inhabit.
Humans created Capital (its unclear what created humans) by breaking it (the universe, world, or capital) into two parts — Nature and Capital. All humans care about (or at least count — which is what counts) is what they own and use — -Capital.
Nature is just what’s left over.
Capital includes land, labor, money, gold, diamonds, timber, food, and cars.
2. The old heterodox and orthodox economics saw humans as governed by selfishess or utility maximiation, work and production. The new formulation just sees them governed by Power. (Its possible this can be phrased in physicist’s language as the ‘Maximum Power Principle’.)
3. So to create a theory of Capital as Power all you do at first is collect data on concentrations of power.
Its similar to Darwinian field biology — you go out and catch an elephant and a butterfly, weigh them, write down their description and either put them in a zoo or museum or let them go. Then you go out and look to see if there is anything more outside.
For humans , you look for corporations and see how big they are .
Then they go to the next step of ‘Darwinism’ — you draw lines between what you find — eg how a butterfly turns into a giraffe. Or how one corporation eats another corporation or sets up shop next to it in a corporate ecosystem or business park.
You can basically apply all the equations of physics and evolutionary biology to describe this process (and some of it has been done).
I think the main contribution of CASP is to use the word ‘power’ as opposed to force, supply and demand, market imperfections, etc. because it explicitly introduces ideology at the outset (though ‘demand’ does as well — but its only part of the theory unlike Power. ).
Once you have power you have it all, except the details.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
2. The famous economist B Arthur (‘path dependence’ — which he acknowledges he got from A Marshall) has a new paper in which he suggests that economics change from nouns to verbs — -ie algorithms instead of equations. Algorithms do something — they compute — while equations just sit there.
My provisional view is an algorithm is a sort of equation that doesn’t have a ‘closed form solution’ at least of the usual kind. You can write a solution but the solution is sort of the entire algorithm. Its like writing ‘computer’ or math’ to say that is your solution.
— — — — — — — — — — — —
3. A McArthur genius at Harvard and an economist at Brown wrote a long (maybe 70 pages) detailed , mathematically ‘heavy’ paper on what people buy with their food stamps (SNAP benefits) to see if you give them more money do they buy more healthy food. They can track what they buy.
Supposedly this is to help food security and health.
The tentative conclusion was no. But they also said they could only track some of what people bought and also didnt know if they actually ate it.
I do know some people sell some of the food they buy and use the money to buy other things.
I’d also say professors sitting on ‘genius grants’ with plenty of security (this jurisdiction had 6 homicides today) are going to know less about the issue of food choice and security by collecting computer data and writing long papers on statistical analyses than if they walked in to a neighborhood where they would feel insecure and bought some food in a store.
— — — — — — — —
So we have 3 questionable or useless economics contributions for today. Maybe academic literature is like a dumpster — might be something nutritional in it somewhere.