Sunday, January 13, 2019

This blog is now terminated



For the reasons here. So no more posts: thanks for reading.

A British Coup?



Over-the-top, copy-selling headline from The Sunday Times today.

It's always interesting watching the elite wrestling with the imperfect levers of governance to bring about the result they really want. The referendum result would have been reversed in a second if not for their inchoate, pervasive fear of the 52%.
Who are these people? We never meet them. No sign of them within the boundaries of the M25.
We know that the left petty-bourgeoisie, the metropolitan bubble-people, lined up for Remain. If the great reversal project progresses during the next weeks through a vote of confidence in May's government (to be lost) and then a general election, what will the Leave-voting working class do? No respectable party speaks to their concerns (Blue Labour, as championed by Rod Liddle, is dead in the water).

A general election with the Tory party in chaos and the Labour Party obfuscating and trying to change the subject - that would be a sight to behold. My tentative projection is that the Tory vote would collapse, the Labour vote would hold up and we would finally get to see what a Corbyn government would do.

No wonder they're cautious.

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It's ironic really. The Theresa May strategy was always to retain the economic benefits of EU membership while continuing to maintain social cohesion by implementing the strict letter of Leave. It was always  'BREXIT in name only'.

The British elite, in its arrogance and short-term greed, has run roughshod over this mildly-intelligent plan. Do they really think a Corbyn government has their neoliberal interests at heart? That rather widespread popular expectations of a new socialist way forward will be so easy to endlessly subvert? They have learned nothing from M. Macron's experiences.

Such hubris: they can be very stupid at times.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The coming recession evokes only Marxist hand-wringing

From Michael Roberts: ASSA 2019 part 2 – the radical: profitability, growth and crises.
"... Those who read my blog regularly know that I would go further or indeed put it differently.   Capitalist economies go into slumps because of a collapse in profits and investment and this leads to a collapse in “effective demand”, not vice versa as the Keynesians (in whatever species) would have it.  So a restoration of profitability is necessary to restore growth under capitalism- this is what I (and G Carchedi) have called the Marxist multiplier compared to the Keynesian multiplier.

What is wrong with Keynesian theory and thus policy is that it denies this determinant role of profitability.  Indeed, in a way, the neoclassical mainstream has a point – that it is necessary (rational?) to drive down wages, weaken labour through unemployment and reduce the burden of the state on capital to revive profits and the economy. Of course, the mainstream cannot explain crises; often deny they can happen; and have no policy for recovery except to make labour pay."
It's another area orthodox Marxists tip-toe around. The focus on changes in profitability as the driver of the economic cycle together with a superior theory of crises makes Marxist economics far more insightful than the neoclassical tradition which Steve Keen so gleefully debunks, or the left-Keynesianism which he so enthusiastically supports.

Amazon link

But if - absent the socialist revolution - the answer to a capitalist recession is always to restore profitability, what would Michael Roberts advise?

That's the difficulty: the point where the theory transitions from positive to normative.

It gets worse: by pursuing Keynesian policies which tend to further wreck the economy and which confuse and demoralise the working class, the eventual reaction can be catastrophic: (Chile, the NSDAP).

I sense a paralysed coyness here from the Marxist left, impotence due to the very lack of illusions. I guess 'fight in the absolute certainty of defeat' doesn't have much of a ring to it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Not so much here in 2019

Not sure about the level of blogging here this coming year. I notice that my personal stuff has already largely migrated to other platforms. Book reviews should probably just go straight to Amazon while I'm hardly an expert on other things I've written about here. This blog has really served as a kind of notebook to document my attention to and levels of understanding of a diversity of things. I have never believed this would be intrinsically interesting to anyone else.

Plus I'm feeling a lot more Straussian recently. Everything you write leaves a trace which can be used by anyone, anytime. Why go there when things look likely to get worse?


Thursday, January 03, 2019

LQG, LSD* and depth psychology

Amazon link

I'm just about glad I read this but the experience was like munching slices of supermarket white bread. The story of Loop Quantum Gravity is told chronologically through the biographies of Lee Smolin and Carlo Rovelli. It's the journey of those who started with General Relativity and tried to quantise spacetime. The nodes and links of LQG are not spacetime quanta, they're precursor objects out of which spacetime, along with its metric field, should emerge in the low-energy limit.

This is the fabrication of reality at the Planck scale, way down from observational data. The models are not without interest (especially the cosmological models) and the approach seems to have its compelling moments .. but .. but .. all the nasty things said about the theological or purely mathematical nature of String Theory also apply here, do they not?

If you're short of cash you could skip the book and read the Wikipedia article, though you are unlikely to understand it without a total familiarity with GR and QFT (not me!). The author had somehow to handwave his way over this cathedral of densely-connected abstractions: the "Quantum Space" reading experience is consequently pretty anaemic.

I'm guessing that Baggott wrote this book because, with the continuing decline in the prospects for String Theory, he's become convinced that there's something to Loop Quantum Gravity and wants to raise its profile for a generation of new physicists wondering what on earth they should be devoting their lives to.

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Amazon link

A few posts ago I said:
"I'm expecting this book to be a bunch of left-Keynesians arguing that an incoming Labour government should put more demand into the economy through deficit spending and increased transfer payments in order to stimulate investment and productivity."
I think I oversold it. This is a bunch of mediocre essays with no new ideas and many mistakes which reminded me of the kind of stuff sixth formers write. It insults the intelligence and bores the unfortunate reader. Give it a miss and read Steve Keen instead.

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Amazon link

Adrian pushed his copy in front of me. As I worked my way through I grew more impressed. It's an easy, folksy read but far from superficial. It puzzled me for a while - how should we think about this book? - and in the end I place it mostly in the Jungian tradition of optimal personal development.

Peterson has read deeply across the disciplines and has melded evolutionary theory, neuroscience and depth psychology into something coherent and new. That is a real achievement.

His blind spot is sociology - he doesn't see how the SJW orthodoxy he confronts is in reality the ideology of the new petty bourgeoisie, conjured into being with the neoliberal transition of the 1970s. He should read Poulantzas.

Still, this omission does not invalidate anything he says since even being conscious of the social dynamics does not suggest any different conclusions.The problem is here regardless.

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"Freud was a genius," Peterson remarks, “you can tell because people still hate him.”

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* Left Social-Democracy.

Friday, December 28, 2018

A new book on Loop Quantum Gravity

Amazon link

Some excitement about this book over at Backreaction. This from 'naivetheorist' in the comments.
".. a new book "Quantum Space" (available at Amazon UK now and at Amazon in a few weeks) is a really superb book on LQG. It is a 'pop science' book only in the sense of being equation-free. it traces the history of the development of LGQ (and string theory as well) and provides relevant biographical details on Rovelli and Smolin. it is by far the most impressive book on 'foundational physics' (as it is 'modestly' referred to by those who work on quantum gravity). I hope you will review this book with the usual incisiveness that you use in discussing arXiv manuscripts."
You can read my own thoughts here.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Three virtual posts

Amazon link

I was going to review Richard Morgan's latest tech-thriller "Thin Air" which I enjoyed a lot. But Steven Poole of The Guardian expressed my thoughts so much more clearly. Really, it's easier just to point you to his review.

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Like everyone else I had plenty of thoughts about the alleged Gatwick Airport drone incursion. The problem seems to be in two parts: first to identify the team launching/retrieving the drone; second to deal with the drone itself. The first part seems harder.

My idea was to run a real time video-acquisition platform (a satellite, police drones or arrays of ground-based CCTV) covering the operational radius of the hostile drone around the airport - I believe this is 2-3 miles. This would generate a great deal of video which would need to be searched very rapidly for hostile drone-team activity. Precisely what Project Maven was designed to address. Google may have gone pacifist but no reason for Qinetiq not to do the project.

But I read so many interesting ideas that it seemed pointless and redundant to add any more.

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I was going to write about this paper with the unpromising title: "Mapping morality with a compass: Testing the theory of ‘morality-as cooperation’ with a new questionnaire" by Oliver Scott Curry, Matthew Jones Chesters and Caspar J. Van Lissa.

What they've done is rethink Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory on the basis of evolutionary plausibility. Instead of Haidt's five dimensions, they have seven and in their field trials it all seems to make sense. Here are their seven moral dimensions. Click on image to make readable.


This is what they say in their abstract.
"Morality-as-Cooperation (MAC) is the theory that morality is a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. MAC uses game theory to identify distinct types of cooperation, and predicts that each will be considered morally relevant, and each will give rise to a distinct moral domain.

Here we test MAC’s predictions by developing a new self-report measure of morality, the Morality-as-Cooperation Questionnaire (MAC-Q), and comparing its psychometric properties to those of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ). Over four studies, the results support the MAC-Q’s seven-factor model of morality, but not the MFQ’s five-factor model.

Thus MAC emerges as the best available compass with which to explore the moral landscape."
I have been quite enthused here by Moral Foundations Theory, while being aware that it, like the five-factor model of personality theory, floats unanchored, crying out for a deeper evolutionary embedding. So this latest work is potentially quite exciting.

Unfortunately, the paper itself is dry and technical and does not excite. I hope the research community builds on it to progress Jonathan Haidt's work - particularly on the psychological/moral differences between liberals, conservatives and libertarians. Then I will feel motivated to comment.

Treed

Picture by Alex

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

APOE variants and Alzheimer's disease risk factors

From Wikipedia:
"Although 40–65% of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients have at least one copy of the ε4 allele, ApoE4 is not a determinant of the disease – at least a third of patients with AD are ApoE4 negative and some ApoE4 homozygotes never develop the disease.

Yet those with two ε4 alleles have up to 20 times the risk of developing AD. There is also evidence that the ApoE2 allele may serve a protective role in AD. Thus, the genotype most at risk for Alzheimer's disease and at an earlier age is ApoE 4,4.

Using genotype ApoE 3,3 as a benchmark (with the persons who have this genotype regarded as having a risk level of 1.0), individuals with genotype ApoE 4,4 have an odds ratio of 14.9 of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Individuals with the ApoE 3,4 genotype face an odds ratio of 3.2, and people with a copy of the 2 allele and the 4 allele (ApoE 2,4), have an odds ratio of 2.6.

Persons with one copy each of the 2 allele and the 3 allele (ApoE 2,3) have an odds ratio of 0.6. Persons with two copies of the 2 allele (ApoE2,2) also have an odds ratio of 0.6."

Two significant loci for APOE: SNP variants

Homozygous coding - as normally presented.

I'm 3,3 and Clare's 3,4.

Here's the incidence.
"Age is the most important risk factor for AD, with the prevalence rising substantially between the ages of 65 and 85 years.

The incidence of the disease doubles every five years after 65 years of age, with diagnosis of 1275 new cases per year per 100,000 persons older than 65 years, so that AD affects 30%–50% of all people by the age of 85 years.

Data on centenarians show that AD is not necessarily the outcome of aging, but the odds of receiving a diagnosis of AD after 85 years exceed one in three."

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Capitalism incompatible with total automation/slavery


In the previous post, "Five questions on the last days of capitalism", I discussed the evolution and final fate of capitalism - which will be very different from the violent revolutionary end imagined by the Leninist left.

In this post I want to zero in on the exact mechanics of the final days of capitalism. Little of what follows is original, but it's seldom brought to prominence.

1. Start point: a model capitalist economy with competition

Our economy consists of a number of identical competitive companies serving an anonymous market. Each company spends per working period:
  • £10 on constant capital c (= depreciation, raw materials, premises etc), 
  • £4 on wages v (= 4 labourers at £1 each)
with a rate of surplus value s/v of 100%. This means that £4 of surplus value s is produced in the working period. So c = 10, v = 4, s = 4.

Revenue = c + v + s = 10 + 4 + 4= £18     -  4 labourers remember. Assume 18 objects are produced at £1 each.

Profit p = revenues - costs = £18 - (£10 + £4) = £4.

Rate of profit = profit/cost = p/(v) = 4/(10 + 4) = 2/7 = 29%.

2. The power of innovation

One of the companies buys some better machinery which bumps c up from 10 to 11 but which allows two workers to be eliminated. Their numbers look better:

c = 11, v = 2, s = 2 (same s/v) so c + v + s = £15.

Suppose that 18 objects are still produced in the working period. Initially the innovator can sell at the going market rate of £1 each - a total revenue of £18.

Revenue = £18. But his costs (c + v) = 11+2 = £13 are lower.

Profit = £18 - £13 = £5 .. and rate of profit = p/(c + v) = 5/13 = 38%.

This is far better than his business rivals (stuck at 29%).

3. Other companies follow the innovation

But all too soon other companies follow suit. Prices fall due to competition until each company finds that for itself:

New revenue = c + v + s =  £11 + £2 + £2 = £15

New profit = (c + v + s) - (c + v) = £15 - £13 = £2.

New rate of profit = p/(c + v) = 2/13 = 15%.

But the previous market equilibrium profit was 29%! Now each employer is worse off.

But the 18 objects now cost only £15, or 83p each. Consumers benefit from the wonders of competition and innovation driving productivity.

4. Robots now eliminate all labour

The robots are coming! A progressive innovator buys more automation which bumps c from 11 to 12 and which eliminates workers altogether.

c = 12, v = s = 0.

As before, 18 objects are produced in the working period and the going rate is still 83p each. Our innovator takes advantage of existing market pricing.

Revenue = £15 as before, but costs = £12 only (no wages).

Profit = £15 - £12 = £3 and the rate of profit = 3/12 = 25%.

An improvement over his competitors (who only see 15%) but again, they soon follow suit.

5. Everybody adopts total automation: no more wage bills

Competition drives prices down to costs (there is no surplus value s).

Revenue = 12 and cost = 12.

Profit = 0 and each object costs 12/18 = 66p. Except no-one is making any.

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Discussion

Slaves or robots: it makes no difference

I assert the above model holds whether the total automation is clever machinery, some humanoid AGI or a human slave.

Nonsense, you reply. A slave is just a worker where the employer is paying for food and shelter directly, rather than via wages.

Not so fast! The slave has to be bought as well as maintained - just like any other piece of capital equipment. What then is the cost of a slave in a competitive market?
The cost of a slave = expected-output-value - maintenance-costs (all discounted).
In one cycle above, assuming the slave is bought at price c and is as productive and exploited as a wage-worker (s/v = 1) then:

output-value produced by slave = (v + s) and maintenance-cost = v, so using the definition:
slave-cost = c = (v + s) - v = s                   - (values/costs here for one work cycle).
People (not slave-owners though) forget to include the initial cost of the slave, which already factors in the 'value' the slave will create.

Suppose cR represents the cost of the raw materials the slave works with and other non-slave constant capital costs. In a work cycle or period:
revenue = cR + value-added-by-the-slave = cR + (v + s)

costs = cR + slave-cost + slave-subsistence = cR + s + v.

Profit = revenue - cost = [cR + (v + s)] - [cR + s + v] = 0.

There have been capitalist economies with slave sectors of the economy

You say, there have been slave-owning sectors of capitalist economies, the antebellum south, and I remind you that this is well-trodden territory on the left.

Read more at this post: "Total automation under capitalism?" - the topic area is the theory of equalisation of the rate of profit between sectors with differing levels of automation and the concept of prices of production.

It's perfectly possible for sectors of a capitalist economy to transition to total automation (point 4 above). The automated sectors extract value produced by workers in other sectors through profit equalisation. But it's not possible for the whole economy to 'lose its workers'.

8. What kind of an economy can you have with total automation?

What does work, you ask. Absent complete overproduction capability ('abundance') of everything, there will be a need for exchange between different production units: commodity exchange at value via simple (or petty) commodity production. Like in the Roman empire, or during feudalism. In this mode of production, exchange is driven by the need for use-values. The dynamic is not profit maximisation.

One can only hope that innovation and dynamism in such an utterly-transformed society of the future is not stifled. Perhaps the AIs will have some objectives of their own? Not everything that is wonderful and creative in human affairs is driven by capital valorisation.

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You will have observed that the cost equation for a slave already incorporates elements of rent. Yet the treatment here is not definitive. As Poulantzas reminds us (Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, chapter 1), 'capital is not a thing'. In arithmetical examples social relationships are reified.

So I'm thinking that the 'expected value of future output' term in the value of a slave is similar to the way we value a share. Marx called this fictitious capital. Compare with the labour involved in delivering the slave as a market-commodity (reproduction, transport and transaction costs) which is how we normally value constant capital. Not sure how to bring these two paradigms together. On this rather opaque thought I must leave it.

Update: Reading Poulantzas (Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, Productive and Unproductive Labour: 2) I am reminded that slaves are not produced in factories.

Slave traders are engaged in non-productive labour and the commodity price form of the slave, like that of the bond or share, is not derived from some quantity of abstract social labour incorporated in it.

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My further posts on Marxist theory.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Five questions on the last days of capitalism



1. Isn't it absurd, in this day and age, to talk about the last days of capitalism?

The prospect certainly isn't imminent. For a century and a half the hard left has talked about the transition to post-capitalism. Yet despite world wars, economic convulsions in the 1930s and 2000s, and major social conflicts in the 1970-80s, capitalism today as an international system is richer and stronger than ever.

2. Why no communist revolutions in the West?

For a century, a dwindling band of revolutionary Marxists have anticipated a violent overthrow of capitalism by the massed proletariat led by a Leninist revolutionary party. That prospect was never realistic.The working class en masse never aligned around a credible anti-capitalist programme. That's because the alternative to capitalist production in an epoch of scarcity can only be a planned economy. And that doesn't work.

3. What will the end of capitalism really look like?

Marx wrote that "no social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself".

Capitalism continues to grow, indeed it has to. Without profits, investment stalls and the economy implodes.

Michael Roberts has argued persuasively that the long stagnation of the last decade or so was caused precisely by the heroic efforts of governments back in 2008/9 to minimise the effects of the crisis. Consequently there was no clear-out of inefficient firms, no devaluation of capital and few opportunities for industrial reorganisation. Zombie firms and debt overhang have stifled profitability and as a result the recovery has been anaemic. Still feels like it.

The underlying trends of capitalism persist through peaks and troughs though. The tendency to revolutionise production through automation, the replacement of workers by machines. So far - at least during an expansionary phase - the economy produces more roles for people displaced than it eliminates.

Cognitive and robotic automation changes that.

The 'safe' jobs right now seem to be those where manual skills are at a premium (care homes) and those where intelligence and interpersonal skills are required (senior executives, politicians, designers). But eventually over the next century or two those will also succumb to cheap automation.

What happens then? People get displaced from the labour force and don't get rehired.

This imposes additional welfare costs on the economy. Meanwhile the active workforce tends to zero. Fewer workers in a highly-automated economy means surplus value (which translates to profit) decreases. And don't forget all those transfer payments to the unproductive unemployed.

With fewer workers and an increasing proportion of the population on welfare, demand for consumer goods (produced by Department 2) declines and as a consequence the market for increased automation products goes into reverse (which hits Department 1). This is not a linear process - nothing in a capitalist economy is linear - but it is tendential. It feels much like the current stagnant economy but with mass unemployment and few job prospects going forwards.

4 What will replace capitalism in the end?

The process I just described results in the economy - in fits and starts - breaking down. There are no good investments. There will always be demand - the unemployed gotta eat, and the capitalists who own the means of production still need their luxuries - but the economic dynamism has gone. Without profit there is no incentive to address that demand and the factories stay shut.

Capitalism has finally completed its work.

I doubt the mass of people will tolerate this state of affairs and the capitalists will not see a way forward as there is none. At this point we have to imagine a world where the environment has become heavily optimised to provide everything a person wants (the result of all those decades of relentless consumer-oriented automation - smarter and smarter AI systems and more efficient robotic systems) yet it can't be put to good use via capitalist processes.

The resulting political transition might be something like the collapse of the Soviet Union rather than a Leninist insurrection. But after that, who knows? We're into science-fiction.

5. What do we do in the meantime?

What has the left done during the last century? Capitalism wasn't abolished, not even close. The workers' movement fought to secure its own existence and social reproduction in material and cultural terms. It didn't do a great job on the latter front, seemingly bewitched by the smug fairy-tales of neoliberal social-liberalism.

But that won't last forever - it's gotten silly now.

I'm in favour of continuing all the processes of increased automation. They're a net good. Within capitalism they will be used of course to buttress and reinforce the reproduction of capitalist relations of production (AI and robots are great for repression).

But in the end it will be self-defeating because capitalism is incompatible with the elimination of the workforce. That truth preempts even the Draka solution .. even if that's the form automation eventually takes. Slaves are equipment, not proletarians.*

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* Part two of this post: "Capitalism incompatible with total automation/slavery".

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Reading Poulantzas and McDonnell

Classes in Contemporary Capitalism

Amazon link

From the preface:
"The book starts with a general theoretical essay that for the first time seriously explores the distinction between the “agents” and “positions” of capitalist relations of production, and seeks to avoid the typical errors of either functionalism or historicism. It also provides a polemical reconsideration of the problem of the “nation state” as a political unit today, and its relationship to the internationalization of capital.

Finally, and most originally, Poulantzas develops a long and powerful analysis of the much-abused concept of the “petty-bourgeoisie.” In this, he scrupulously distinguishes between the “traditional” categories of petty-bourgeoisie—shopkeepers, artisans, small peasants—and the “new” categories of clerical workers, supervisors, and salaried personnel in modern industry and commerce. At the same time he demonstrates the reasons why a unitary conceptualization of their class position is possible. The difficult question of the definition of “productive” and “unproductive” labor within Marx’s own account of the capitalist mode of production is subjected to a novel and radical reinterpretation. The political oscillations peculiar to each form of petty-bourgeoisie and especially their characteristic reactions to the industrial proletariat, are cogently assessed.

Poulantzas ends his work with a reminder that the actions and options of the petty-bourgeoisie are critical to any successful struggle by the working class, which must secure the alliance of important sections of the petty-bourgeoisie if the fateful experience of Chile is not to recur elsewhere tomorrow."
These are really critical issues when trying to understand the kind of class dynamics underlying the recent events in France, the left and right populist movements everywhere and specifically the SJW phenomenon. It's also relevant to any incoming Labour government here in the UK.

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State, Power, Socialism


Amazon link

This is Poulantzas's great exposition of the anatomy and dynamics of the various forms of the capitalist state, and the implications for the transition to socialism. I already read "The State and the Transition to Socialism" (Chapter 14 "The Poulantzas Reader" - PDF) where Nicos Poulantzas debates with the (at that time) Trotskyist Henri Weber (of the LCR) as to whether the Leninist model of a proletarian revolution/state based on federated soviets is really viable in modern Western Europe.

Poulantzas further questions whether the power of the bourgeois state can really only be overthrown by dual-power soviet structures as in the Bolshevik revolution (that was Trotskyist orthodoxy at the time of the interview, 1977). A kind of head-on assault.

My sympathies align with Poulantzas here, insofar as he at least thought about the nature of the state unlike the FI which had not moved beyond "The State and Revolution".

Weber is right against Poulantzas that the state is too strong and - in extremis - too focused to be subverted/reused from within. But they are both wrong to think that modern capitalism is vulnerable to the revolutionary imposition of a post-capitalist mode of production led by the massed ranks of the industrial proletariat.

That isn't the failure mode.

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Economics for the Many

Amazon link

I'm expecting this book to be a bunch of left-Keynesians arguing that an incoming Labour government should put more demand into the economy through deficit spending and increased transfer payments in order to stimulate investment and productivity.

I'm completely with Michael Roberts here: good luck with that.

Still, no sense in prejudging. Let's listen to what Mr McDonnell's favourite economists have to say.