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Month: December, 2017

Bitcoin Mania

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by Doug Henwood

Bitcoin, once a fairly arcane topic, is now everywhere.

The market pundit Robert Prechter, who is a great psychologist of financial markets despite being a devoted follower of Ayn Rand and believing in a piece of superstition called Elliott Wave theory, once argued that in the course of a major bull market there’s something called a “point of recognition,” when the general public gets on board. That means it’s getting late in the run and it’s time for pros to think about getting out (though a serious mania can go on well after John and Jane Q get involved).

It sure seems like we’re at that point with Bitcoin, whose price trajectory over the last few years resembles some of history’s great manias, like the Dutch tulip bulb frenzy of the 1630s, the South Sea bubble of the 1710s, and the US stock market orgies of the 1920s and 1990s.

What is going on? Before getting into the details, I should say that money in general is not a simple topic. Most people have a good understanding of how gold, which is something of a primal money, is mined, refined, and shaped into ingots or coins. Slightly less obvious is why it has a monetary status unlike, say, platinum. But it is rare, pure, easily divisible, and has been highly cherished throughout the ages.

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Where Millennials Come From

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by Jia Tolentino

Imagine, as I often do, that our world were to end tomorrow, and that alien researchers many years in the future were tasked with reconstructing the demise of civilization from the news. If they persevered past the coverage of our President, they would soon identify the curious figure of the millennial as a suspect. A composite image would emerge, of a twitchy and phone-addicted pest who eats away at beloved American institutions the way boll weevils feed on crops. Millennials, according to recent headlines, are killing hotels, department stores, chain restaurants, the car industry, the diamond industry, the napkin industry, homeownership, marriage, doorbells, motorcycles, fabric softener, hotel-loyalty programs, casinos, Goldman Sachs, serendipity, and the McDonald’s McWrap.

The idea that millennials are capriciously wrecking the landscape of American consumption grants quite a bit of power to a group that is still on the younger side. Born in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, millennials are now in their twenties and thirties. But the popular image of this generation—given its name, in 1987, by William Strauss and Neil Howe—has long been connected with the notion of disruptive self-interest. Over the past decade, that connection has been codified by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, who writes about those younger than herself with an air of pragmatic evenhandedness and an undercurrent of moral alarm. (An article adapted from her most recent book, “iGen,” about the cohort after millennials, was published in the September issue of The Atlantic with the headline “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” It went viral.) In 2006, Twenge published “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.” The book’s cover emblazoned the title across a bare midriff, a flamboyant illustration of millennial self-importance, sandwiched between a navel piercing and a pair of low-rise jeans.

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El Chapo and the Secret History of the Heroin Crisis

If you wonder why America is in the grips of a heroin epidemic that kills two hundred people a week, take a hard look at the legalization of pot, which destroyed the profits of the Mexican cartels. How did they respond to a major loss in revenue? Like any company, they created an irresistible new product and flooded the market. The scariest part: this might not have happened with El Chapo in charge.

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The economics of Luther or Munzer?

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by Michael Roberts (TheNextRecession)

Last week leading leftist economists in the UK held a seminar on the state of mainstream economics, as taught in the universities.  They kicked this off by nailing a poster with 33 theses critiquing mainstream economics to the door of the London School of Economics.  This publicity gesture attempted to remind us that it was the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church, Wittenberg and provoked the beginning of the Protestant reformation against the ‘one true religion’ of Catholicism.

The economists were purporting to tell us that mainstream economics was like Catholicism and must be protested against as Luther did back in 1517.  As they put it, “Economics is broken.  From climate change to inequality, mainstream (neoclassical) economics has not provided the solutions to the problems we face and yet it is still dominant in government, academia and other economic institutions. It is time for a new economics.”

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A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions

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by Kim Stanley Robinson (1991)

The covering law model of historical explanation states that an event is explained if it can be logically deduced from a set of initial conditions, and a set of general historical laws. These sets are the explanans, and the event is the explanandum. The general laws are applied to the initial conditions, and the explanandum is shown to be the inevitable result. An explanation, in this model, has the same structure as a prediction.

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How to Parent Like a Bolshevik

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Young actors in “The Blue Bird” in 1911.CreditHulton Archive/Getty Images

 Red Century

by Yuri Slezkine

The original Bolsheviks expected Communism in their lifetime. When that began to appear unlikely, they moved the deadline to the lifetime of their children.

“Fire cannot be contained,” Nina Avgustovna Didrikil, an employee at the Lenin Institute, wrote in her diary in 1920. “It will burst forth, and I am certain that if it does not burst forth within me, it will do so through my children, who will make me immortal.”

The path to the parents’ immortality was the children’s happiness. “You are happy, and you will be even happier when you realize just how happy you are,” wrote Didrikil in 1933 to one of her daughters on her 17th birthday. “You are the youngest and strongest, and the whole life of your society is young and strong. My wish for you, in your 17th spring, is that you continue to move closer and closer, in all your interests, feelings, and thoughts, to the camp of the youngest and strongest: to Marx, Engels, Lenin and all the true Bolsheviks.”

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Der Begriff der Arbeit in Karl Marx’ «Kapital»

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Karl Marx’ «Das Kapital» feiert 2017 seinen 150. Geburtstag. 2018 folgt der 200. Geburtstag von Marx selbst. Der Fokus der Marx-Herbstschule lag diesmal auf dem Begriff, der wie kein anderer sowohl Marx’ Kapital als auch die Geschichte des Marxismus beherrscht: Arbeit.

Der Arbeitsbegriff zieht sich wie ein roter Faden durch die gesamte Entwicklung des ersten Bandes, ausgehend vom «Doppelcharakter» der Arbeit, dem «Springpunkt, um den sich das Verständnis der politischen Ökonomie dreht», über die kapitalistische Anwendung, Verwertung und Ausbeutung der Arbeitskraft und ihre Kämpfe bis hin zum historischen Ursprung der kapitalistischen Lohnarbeit durch die sog. «Ursprüngliche Akkumulation».

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