Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Principal of Hertford College, Oxford is a Dunce!

In an interview published today in the Financial Times, Guardian columnist and Hertford College principal, Will Hutton says, "Essentially there needs to be much greater interpenetration of both higher education and the corporate world. It is a knowledge economy and universities are the linchpins of the knowledge economy." (Hopefully, that interpenetration will be eased by generous lubrication.)

Mr. Hutton also says:
I don’t share the "lump of labour" fallacy that an economy has a finite number of hours’ work. Economists – whether they are monetarists, Keynesians, rightwing or leftwing – will tell you that that is a fallacious doctrine. Work has to satiate human wants that are infinite. The question is how you create a surplus to satisfy those wants.
Is it true or even conceivable that there is not a finite amount of work? Inadvertently, Mr. Hutton has hit on the fundamental absurdity of the fallacy claim. The usual rejoinder is that the amount of work is not fixed, but the idea of infinite human wants is common. And it is muddle-headed cant.

Silly as the notion is, whether human wants are infinite or not is irrelevant. What matters is the ability of someone to pay to satisfy those wants. The demand for work is thus limited by the availability of credit. You can pay for work with goods and services or you can pay for it with (credible) promises. But if you can't pay for it, it's not paid work.

Credit can expand indefinitely (indeterminately). But its "infinite" expansion is a proposition for which we have no evidence. Despite their sharing many letters, "infinite" and "indefinite" have different meanings. All previous credit expansions have reached a limit. All of them.

Should it not be a feature of a "knowledge economy" that a college principal would know the difference between infinite and indefinite, and between fixed and finite?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reserve Army of Labor Grimwash

"The only thing worse than being exploited by capitalism is not being exploited by capitalism." -- Joan Robinson

Perhaps. But what if the glare from the wretchedness of unemployment blinds the observer to an historical coercion that although it may not appear quite so spectacularly grim is structurally indispensable to the continuation of the being-and-not-being-exploited?

The strident anti-union polemics of 19th century Britain had a context. That context was exemplified by the Master and Servant Acts. "In one year alone, 1864, the last return given, under the Master and Servants Act, 10,246 working men were imprisoned at the suit of their masters — not one master at the suit of the men!" (Ernest Jones)

So when employers objected to the "interference" of unions, it wasn't in comparison to a baseline of personal contracts between employer and employee but to contracts enforced in one direction only by criminalization.

So what do you call it when a grim situation obscures what might be a statistically less pervasive but nevertheless importantly bleak one? Grimwash?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Economics Defined

Schemes for improving the condition of the poor by making them more useful to the rich.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Why is plagiarism unacceptable?"

The following statement on plagiarism comes from the Université de Liège:
From a legal perspective, any unauthorised reproduction (total or partial) of a work (no matter what kind or in what format) can be subject to legal proceedings, within criminal or civil law (article 80 and onwards of the Act of June 30, 1994, concerning author’s rights and related rights). That is also true when the sources used come from documents available on ‘Open Access’ (Thys, 2009, p. 35).

Within the context of university education
  • Plagiarism is an obstacle to the development of the spirit of personal and critical reflection which the university wishes to foster.
  • Plagiarism directly hinders one of the essential missions of university education, in other words educating students and assessing what they have learned. This evaluation focuses notably on personal written work. It is thus essential to be able to measure precisely what is the personal contribution of students in their texts.
  • Plagiarism is incompatible with carrying out a scientific or academic activity, where it is indispensable to be able to situate each and every contribution. In the university academic and scientific environment it is thus considered as a serious breach of ethics. On the other hand citing sources in an appropriate manner enables quality documentary research to be highlighted.

In professional life

  • Participating in the production of academic or scientific knowledge notably involves taking into account the results of previous work and measuring its value and impact, in order to provide it with an extension and continuation. It thus involves inscribing oneself in a chain of knowledge production, which justifies the necessity of making explicit reference to the works consulted.
  • Providing the proof of what is being written and offering the reader the means of verifying the information used in a work are indispensable to giving credibility to a text, a project, an argument, etc.
It is not just about simple respect for the author, but well and truly a basic element in the mechanism of how academic and scientific knowledge is constructed, in the same way as not falsifying data, for example.

Relevant and quality references, presented according to the regulations in force in the different disciplines, are thus signals of the professionalism expected and valorised by the university institution.
In other words, it's not just about copying one sentence -- "the apt phrase" -- but also about what the lack of appropriate citation says about the authors' disregard for the accepted rules governing "inscribing oneself in a chain of knowledge production..."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Boilerplate B. Bottomwood: Keep on Lumping

The Economist is up to its old tricks again, responding to Lucy Kellaway's Financial Times column from last week with a Buttonwood column telling "Why the old should not make way for the young."

By some strange coincidence, the Sandwichman just finished a first draft of "The 'Lump of Labor' Hoax: Evidence, Inference and the Blur of Bamboozlement," which probes far beyond the platitudes of The Economist into the plagiarism, forgery, incomprehension and evasion that has characterized the fallacy claim since its inception.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Oh What a Tangled Web We Weave..."

A correspondent thought I was getting too convoluted for him. As I tried to explain, it's the story that's "convoluted" not me. It's not so convoluted if I start at the beginning and tell the whole story but then the objection might be that I'm getting too pedantic... Well, here goes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

About that panicky look in their eyes...

Dear Lucy,

I am dumbfounded.

This morning, reading "Social Security Programs and Retirement around the World: The Relationship to Youth Employment," (Jonathan Gruber and David Wise, eds., 2010) I came across the statement, "Those who make the fallacy claim fail to offer specific evidence of the supposed belief in a fixed amount of work." Not only do I agree with that observation -- I said it myself back in 2005. Except I used the word "neglect" instead of the word "fail"

So not only do they mutter about the lump-of-labour fallacy and neglect (or fail) to offer any evidence, but they are plagiarists, to boot! No wonder they have a panicky look in their eyes! What if somebody found out that the muttering, unsubstantiated certitudes in their head aren't even their own?

It's not the plagiarism that rankles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and plagiarism the most abject form of imitation. It's the lack of accountability and shifty attempt to shift the "burden of proof." Here is a book published by the NBER and the University of Chicago Press, edited by professors from Harvard and MIT and in a chapter that originally appeared as a working paper from the IMF where it is openly stated that "Those who make the fallacy claim fail to offer specific evidence of the supposed belief in a fixed amount of work" and do they offer any evidence? No. No survey data, no interviews or content analysis. Just buck-naked assertion.

Best regards

Tom Walker
(The Sandwichman)

Excuse me?

It's not so much the plagiarism -- imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; plagiarism is the most abject form of imitation -- as the glib manner in which Alain Jousten et. al deflect the "burden of proof" from those making the fallacy claim to those allegedly committing it.

Just to preclude any question about priority, here is a screenshot of a Wayback Machine capture of my draft from November 2, 2005: