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Hello again,

 

and thanks for the illuminating discussions. Two brief points:

 

Firstly, on John’s quotation of Amartya Sen – Veblen also said “And here and now, as always and everywhere, invention is the mother of necessity” (“The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts”, W.W. Norton, 1964, p.314).

 

Secondly, re Dell’s point on terminology. Theorising and conceptualizing are processes laden with normative intent. Institutionalism is no stranger to this – enabling myth, social value principle, even the very definition of “institution” (especially by Ayres). Semantics are important, and this is perhaps most apparent in the presentation of first year “principles” like “perfect” and “imperfect” competition, in which the terms’ normative connotations at least implicitly direct the student toward the “correct” conclusion, especially when competition is treated as sacrosanct. The example below of “income” is instructive. “Real income” as depicted by MarcTool would be able to encompass the spectrum of distribution, but is necessarily more qualitative (and therefore more obviously subjective and so easily dismissed according to the prevailing scientism) than the spurious precision provided by mere monetary measures, which are themselves parsed in lawyerly fashion to mean that most in accordance with the will of the paymaster. The switch from GNP to GDP is another case in point.

 

Michael

 

From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Dell Champlin
Sent: 15. toukokuuta 2016 23:40
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Ideological element among Institutionalists?

 

This has been a very interesting exchange.  I just wanted to add my 2 cents for what it is worth.
 
John's original query was whether there might be an ideological element among Institutionalists.  I would imagine that there is, since I don't know of any institutionalist who believes that Economics is, or even could be, a purely objective, positive "science."  The issue is that, as many have pointed out, many terms are especially contentious because they imply certain conclusions about the market system or about the one in the US in particular.  Income, poverty, wealth, and inequality are a few that fall into this category.  For example, the Census Bureau reports income statistics but leaves out income from capital gains which are more likely to be received by higher income households.  Yet, many Economics textbooks suggest that the Census Bureau statistics are biased at the low end of the distribution, because they do not take into account in-kind benefits while neglecting to mention the bias at the upper end.  This is, to me, a very clear effort to try to distort the statistics to show greater equality and to minimize the extent of poor economic outcomes.  Inequality is another very loaded term, where much information was left out -- at least until Piketty and Saez used better data.
 
International comparisons can be even more tricky.  For example, compare the ubiquitous GDP per capita figure with the Human Development Index.  Another example is simply the fact that a discussion of the word, hunger, included an extensive discussion of the word, obesity.  No bias there at all, right? 
 
So, John, I would suggest that the problem is terminology.  Don't use the word, hunger, if you want to avoid a discussion of your word choice rather than a discussion of the arguments you are making in your paper.  I'm not sure what to suggest as an alternative.  I'm currently trying to wrap my head around the fact that productivity is now a word that applies to "job creators" rather than to workers. :)
 
Dell
 

 


Date: Sun, 15 May 2016 16:46:44 +0000
From:
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Subject: Re: Ideological element among Institutionalists?
To:
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John,  thanks for this.  I’m not sure that IWPR and Thompson & Smeeding are inconsistent though. $17 billion more in food stamps and 2.5 million new households may not address the dislocation or perhaps the poor who get food stamps has gone up from 35% to 38%.  It is also worth noting that IWPR 63% number is for 2008, before the big increase in the various supports. The IWPR stuff mostly addresses welfare reform.  The general line on welfare reform is that 1) a lot of those who were kicked off of welfare roles were kicked off for rule violations, not because they have moved out of poverty.  2) for those that have moved into jobs, they are crappy jobs that pay only minimum wage and do not cover health insurance (Yes, Obamacare is very important in improving people’s lives).  One possible scenario here is that these “automatic stabilizers” did a better job of supporting those who were pushed over the edge by the recession, but didn’t do much for those who had already fallen.  One of the aspects of TANF is that there is a life-time cap. None of this should be interpreted to mean that SNAP is not a good thing, I’m arguing that it is inadequate.

 

According to the SNAP (food stamp) advocacy group, 75% of those eligible use SNAP.  The only way I can see to reconcile that with the IWPR numbers is that a lot of poor women are not “eligible” meaning that they violate some non-income criteria.  

 

IWPR data (from the American Community Survey)

 

White

African Amer.

Native Amer.

Asian

Hispanic

Other

2008

10.3

23.1

24.3

10.7

21.2

17

2010

10.9

29.2

28.6

13.1

28.3

19.4

 

Interestingly the 2010   data comes from a fact sheet on the new “supplemental poverty measure” which “accounts for the effects of important government benefits and taxes, work expenses (including childcare), and medical expenses on households' standards of living” Interestingly, except for native americans and other, the supplemental poverty measure leads to greater percentages of people in poverty, but it also narrows the gap between women and men.

 

CEPR has an interesting article on married people with children in poverty that might also be interesting. 

 

Barbara

 

Barbara Hopkins, Ph.D.
Economics Dept.
Wright State University
3640 Col. Glenn Hwy
Dayton, OH 45435
office: 937 775-2080
211 Rike
Fax: 937 775-2441
[log in to unmask]
www.wright.edu/~barbara.hopkins
Sent from Mail for Windows 10

 

From: John Watkins
Sent: Sunday, May 15, 2016 7:46 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Ideological element among Institutionalists?

 

One more point: Barbara the reference you cite that 62% of women did not receive food stamps appears to contradict the research by Thompson and Smeeding (Thompson, Jeffrey P and Timothy M Smeeding. Inequality and Poverty in the United States: The Aftermath of the Great Recession. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (US), 2013.) Their article provided the rationale for my comment that for the most part the effects of the Great Recession were mitigated by government intervention. Using census data they found that

 

“In addition to the market factors driving employment losses and depressing wages, a host of

actions by the public sector and individuals combined to influence household well-being

during the GR and the following period. Automatic stabilizers (including Unemployment

Insurance (UI), SNAP, and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF))

and discretionary fiscal policy all injected hundreds of billions of dollars into household

incomes between 2008 and 2010. Total SNAP benefits rose from $37 billion in 2008 to $54

billion 2009, with 2.5 million new households getting ‘food stamps’.”

 

Assuming both the Thompson and Smeeding  and the report on “Women in Poverty During the Great Recession”  (which also used census data) are correct, then it appears the state of poverty is much worse than the Thompson and Smeeding article suggests. Even so, both articles appear to provide conflicting views regarding the state of poverty during the Great Recession.

 

 

From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Hopkins, Barbara E.
Sent: Saturday, May 14, 2016 11:43 AM
To:
[log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Ideological element among Institutionalists?

 

John,

          You might find The Challenge of Affluence relevant to your topic.  He has a chapter on obesity.  He explains why weight loss can be tied to class privilege.  There is another chapter on smoking that is also more prevalent among the poor.  I think the cultural focus on obesity is part of an effort to refocus us all on the overconsumption of the poor, so that we are distracted from the overconsumption of the rich.  But, as someone pointed out, obesity cannot be reduced to “overconsumption.”  It is also about nutrition.  There is some evidence that food has less nutrients per calorie than in the past.  You point out the link between adequate food and health, but I’m pretty sure that  It is also linked to time poverty, because access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult and eating a big mac is both quick and cheap. And, as Zdravka and I wrote, the increase in women’s labor force participation means less time for household production among the working poor.  Cooking beans and rice takes a long time. The other issue is whether one has the facilities.  In high cost housing places like San Francisco, one might not be able to afford more than a hot plate.

          Your link between adequate food and health is important, but overstated.  Poor health (of both mother and child) is one of the barriers to getting a job, or a decent job, for a lot of poor women with kids. For kids with food allergies the food bank doesn’t necessarily have food they can eat.  The role of mental illness here might be particularly interesting, because it would affect the ability for some form of deprivation to effect social control.      

          Also, in response to the claim that hungry kids are the children of people who sell their food stamps – First, it is different to say this happens – anecdotal evidence is sufficient for that – and “this is typical”. It is incorrect to assume that everyone that needs assistance, gets it. After the financial collapse 62% of poor women did not receive food stamps. (67.5% of poor women in New Mexico, which, for those of you who were not at the session, represents the anecdotal evidence Jim used to challenge John’s premise.) Yes, most of those people are getting food somehow, leaving their kids alone so they don’t have to pay for childcare, not fixing stuff when it breaks, taking out payday loans. When I looked at the USDA data some years ago, children were entirely shielded from “hunger” or “disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security” (that means that mothers (we are mostly talking mothers) went hungry so they could feed their kids first).  Today, (or rather two years ago and going back two years before that) that still happens, but for 1.1 percent of households with children, “both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security.” That means that at sometime during the year they skipped meals or ate less because they could not afford it. Does that mean children are more likely  to be hungry or poisoned with lead?  I’m not sure, but probably the lead thing. While I agree that this isn’t the means for motivating people (if I understood Anne’s comment, neither did Polanyi), I think that hunger is a bigger problem than most people realize and growing and deepening and NOT exclusively a problem of drug addicted homeless people (after all homeless people are not covered by the USDA survey, since it covers “households”). 

          I think it is intuitive that “the nature of poverty” has changed.  I also think that poverty looks different in different places and among different groups (lone mothers, for example).  Poverty in Northern New Mexico (or Southern New Mexico) looks very different from poverty in Baltimore or Chicago or Detroit. But, I think that to focus on this point (the idea that poverty is different than we think it is) requires reading some ethnography, such as http://www.amazon.com/New-Poverty-Studies-Ethnography-Impoverished/dp/0814731163 reviewed http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2863&context=jssw

         In The Milagro Beanfield War, a fictional account of property rights vs. water rights and subsistence farming vs. wage labor in Northern New Mexico, one of the main characters says “Do you remember when we were not rich, but when our poverty was not a thing to be ashamed of?”

There have been shifts over time back and forth as to how much we blame people for their economic misfortune.  Those enabling myths are an important part of the mechanisms for social control.

Barbara

               

 

Barbara Hopkins, Ph.D.
Economics Dept.
Wright State University
3640 Col. Glenn Hwy
Dayton, OH 45435
office: 937 775-2080
211 Rike
Fax: 937 775-2441
[log in to unmask]
www.wright.edu/~barbara.hopkins
Sent from Mail for Windows 10

 

From: Linwood Tauheed
Sent: Friday, May 13, 2016 8:35 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Ideological element among Institutionalists?

 

Philip:

Assuming your response was to my request for "data, studies, or other information":

  1. I have no idea what you mean by "I'm open to it" or "Certainly."
  2. My question was about whether you could provide "data, studies, or other information to substantiate your claim".  I assume from your non-response on this point that you cannot.
  3. Your anecdotal experience is not sufficient to substantiate your claim.  JK Galbraith has alerted us to the dangers contained in the "conventional wisdom".  William Dugger has alerted us to the power of the "enabling myth" in maintaining the status quo.
  4. Since this is a discussion of ideology among institutionalists I think it is appropriate to appeal to that tradition for commentary.

Gunnar Myrdal wrote the following in "Value in Social Theory" (1958 - originally 1944 as an appendix of "An American Dilemma").  (I'm not asserting that your use of "children in very run-down schools" is a reference to racial characteristics, but the correlation is high and so I thought referring to Myrdal was appropriate.)
There are in the Negro problem whole systems of popular beliefs concerning the Negro and his relations to the larger society which are crudely false and can only be understood in this light. These 'popular theories' or ideologies are themselves important data in our study, as they represent strategic social facts in the practical and political problems of race relations. A legitimate task of education is to attempt to correct popular beliefs by subjecting them to rigorous examination in the light of the factual evidence. This educational objective must be achieved in the face of the psychic resistance mobilized by the people who feel an urgent need to retain their biased beliefs in order to justify their way of life. (my emphasis)
In a more penetrating analysis all tendencies to bias will be found to have involved relations among themselves and with deeper ideological tendencies which have even shaped our main conceptional tools in social science ... These ideological tendencies are biased in a static and do-nothing (laissez-faire) conservative direction, which, in the main, works against a disfavored group like the American Negroes.
Myrdal comes to these insights as a result of leading an actual empirical research project on American race relations, the most in depth study even to this date, in which he collaborated with economists, political scientists, sociologists, historians, educators, philosophers, and psychologists among other disciplines.  In fact, it was during this project that Myrdal states that he became an "Institutional Economist", from being a neoclassical economist, as he confronted his own ideological positions, and found them lacking because they did not conform to data, studies and other information.
In a section titled "BIASES IN THE RESEARCH ON THE AMERICAN NEGRO PROBLEM" Myrdal delineates categories of biases; among them:

  1.  "The Scale of 'Friendliness' to the Negro" - which by inference would apply to "liberal" bias, and
  2.  "The Scale of 'Friendliness' to the South" - which by inference would apply to "conservative" bias.
  3.  "The Scale of Radicalism-Conservatism" -  which directly addressed the liberal-conservative split, and
  4.  "The Scale of Scientific Integrity."

On this last "Scale" Myrdal writes:

The degree to which a scientist is prepared to study unpopular subjects and to state plainly and clearly unpopular conclusions derived from his findings depends, naturally, on his own political inclinations, his personal courage, and the relative freedom awarded him by society. These factors, however, are not independent of each other. In communities where academic freedom is low, the scientist normally will, in adjustment to the environment in which he works, develop, on the one hand, a dislike for controversial matters and for clear and bluntly scientific statements concerning them, and, on the other hand, an unduly high valuation of agreement and conformity as such. Quite independent of the favorable or unfavorable judgment society passes upon such an attitude, it is, of course, detrimental to scientific clarity and objectivity and to scientific progress. (emphasis mine)

Certainly, what would distinguish the institutional approach from the neoclassical is the importance placed on producing "scientific" evidence from real world empirical research on which to base theory.  To the extent that institutionalism, as a community, de-values research on "unpopular subjects", or unpopular conclusions from findings, it diminishes academic freedom.  However, those conclusions, if not based on data, studies or other information are "mere" opinion, and everyone has theirs.
I use this reading in my Institutional Economic Theory class as a way of encouraging my students to come to the realization that we are all biased in our opinions, but we have an obligation, as social scientists, to work to get beyond our ideological "mere opinions" to Dewey's "warranted assertability".
Linwood
 
 

 

On Fri, May 13, 2016 at 5:48 PM, Philip Pilkington <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I'm open to it. Certainly. But it does happen. I know it because I've seen it up close. With some of my friends and some of their family's kids. And if liberal types want to deny it due to their own ideological predilections, that's on the.

 

Btw on the original question... Yes this is heavily ideological from what I can see. A picture painted by the middle class to avoid the truth of what is going on.

 

Phil



On Friday, 13 May 2016, Linwood Tauheed <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Philip wrote:
"You also sometimes find children that are hungry in very run-down schools, for example. But this is typically because the parents are flogging food stamps for drugs or alcohol."
Philip, would you provide data, studies, or other information to substantiate you claim that there are children in very run-down schools who are hungry because their parents traded food stamps for drugs and alcohol?
I'm curious.
Linwood Tauheed

On May 13, 2016 9:48 AM, "Philip Pilkington" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

John,

 

Seems to me perfectly coherent. Hunger -- as in, the need for food -- is not a problem in most Western countries. And yes, obesity and obesity-related interests (diabetes etc) now seem far more prevalent among poorer people.

 

Food banks and soup kitchens do still exist in the US. But these appear to be mainly for homeless people and drug addicts. I think it's the homelessness and drug addiction that are the main problems here, not lack of food per se.

 

You also sometimes find children that are hungry in very run-down schools, for example. But this is typically because the parents are flogging food stamps for drugs or alcohol.

 

In Greece you do seem to have old style soup kitchens reemerging:

 

 

But even there it's not really like the classic soup kitchen that would literally feed starving people. It seems more so that people who are hard up use the facilities to save money that they then spend on other things -- like clothes and books for their children.

 

I think you're right: poverty today increasingly looks like poisonous overconsumption; of bad quality food and of drugs and alcohol.

 

Best,

 

Phil

 

On Fri, May 13, 2016 at 3:11 PM, John Watkins <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Michael,

 

Thank you for your comments. I agree: hunger is imprecise. And while most people maybe fed, they are not well fed. Even here, as you suggest, there is controversy regarding what it means to be well fed. Obviously, we have many people who are not going hungry (nutrition is another issue), but other needs are going without.

 

My point is that the nature of poverty has changed. And it is important to trace those changes. Amartya Sen had an interesting comment, which may seem obvious after said. Needs are a function of what is possible. His point is that living 200 years is not a need because it is not possible. Hence, poverty itself, loosely defined as the inability to satisfy needs, is a matter of what is possible.

 

john

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Michael Keaney
Sent: Friday, May 13, 2016 12:19 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Ideological element among Institutionalists?

 

Hi John

 

Hunger is perhaps too imprecisely defined – and reducing everything to calories ignores the issue of nutrition. I attach two relatively recent FT reports that have some bearing on your topic. Especially the Fifield article is quite damning about the state of grocery retail in the US, and may be read in conjunction with Eric Schlosser’s classic “Fast Food Nation”. Not so long ago Europe had its own horse meat scandal, revealing just how little is known of the supply chains feeding us. “Soylent Green” also comes to mind!

 

Michael

 

From: AFEEMAIL Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of John Watkins
Sent: 12. toukokuuta 2016 20:39
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Ideological element among Institutionalists?

 

At the recent AFIT meetings, I presented a paper that received considerable criticism. Criticism, of course, is fine, even desirable. I have to wonder, however, if the source of the criticism, in fact, lay in our own ideological blinders. The point that received the most criticism was my claim that hunger is not the problem it was once, at least in the West.

 

The response led me to wonder if I had attacked a sacred cow, if ideology had blinded my fellow institutionalists to changes in the American economy. I know of no way to go about research other than the use theory and facts. I try to confront ideology wherever I find it, which is usually among mainstream economists. This is not to say that we, too, wear occasionally ideological blinders.

 

Polanyi refers to the use of hunger as a means of motivating people in the19th century civilization. Polanyi uses hunger as a term for needs generally.

 

I asserted that the muted response to the financial crisis was, in part, that hunger was no longer the problem it was once. Although the popularity of both Trump and Sanders may reveal up to now a silent, growing response to the crisis and how it was handled. Its silence, however, is not motivated by hunger.

 

My point is despite the rise in inequality, most people suffer from too much food, not too little. The United States Department of Agriculture prefers the term food security to hunger, meaning that the people have sufficient calories (2100 calories per day for an adult) to perform their daily functions. The importance of food security cannot be underestimated. Good nutrition improves the ability to avoid and fight disease, improving longevity (See McKeown 1983). Data from the US Department of Agriculture indicates that food insecurity with hunger increased from 3.1 % in 2001 to 5.7% of households during 2008 and 2009. Overall, food insecurity comprised 19.2 percent of households. The USDA defines food insecurity as households “unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food” (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh 2015a, 8). Admittedly, there is a difference between the threat of hunger and hunger itself. In 2014, nineteen percent of households expressed concern that money until the next check would be insufficient (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh 2015b, Table S-5, p. 10). Nevertheless, the report surmises that food insecurity in the United States is not chronic.[1] Even so, food insecurity persists among more marginalized groups: minorities, single women with children, low-income groups, and so on.

 

All of this was resurrected for me by an article in The Wall Street Journal today titled “Obesity: The New Hunger.” The Journal, of course, is hardly a progressive paper. Nevertheless, we would be remiss to ignore analyses and the facts presented. I do not deny that hunger still exists in America. And the criticisms I received were anecdotal, which I do not deny. Nor do I deny the increase in inequality and the inability of many people to satisfy other needs. But is hunger the issue that it once was? Or as progressives, are we ignoring the facts? Are we ignoring changes in the nature of poverty itself?

 

John P. Watkins

Professor of Economics

Westminster College

1840 South 1300 East

Salt Lake City, UT 84105

Office: 801 832-2628

Cell: 801 550-5834

 







[1] “When households experience very low food security in the United States, the resulting instances of reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns are usually occasional or episodic but are not usually chronic” (Coleman-Jensen, Rabbitt, Gregory and Singh 2015a, 11).



 

--

Philip Pilkington

Tel: 0044(0)7825371244



--

Philip Pilkington

Tel: 0044(0)7825371244

 




--

Linwood F. Tauheed, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Economics
University of Missouri-Kansas City
5100 Rockhill Road, 202D Manheim Hall
Kansas City, Missouri 64110