National Science Foundation Patronage of Social Science, 1970s and 1980s: Congressional Scrutiny, Advocacy Network, and the Prestige of Economics in Minerva with Thomas Scheiding, 2012, 50(4): 423–449.
Research in the social sciences received generous patronage in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Research was widely perceived as providing solutions to emerging social problems. That generosity came under increased contest in the late 1970s. Although these trends held true for all of the social sciences, this essay explores the various ways by which economists in particular reacted to and resisted the patronage cuts that were proposed in the first budgets of the Reagan administration. Economists’ response was three fold: to engage in joint lobbying with other social scientists, to tap into their authority as a respected policy player, and to influence the types of research financed by the patron. With interviews of the former lobbyist for the social scientists, the former director of the Economics program for the National Science Foundation, and a review of the archival records of economists and their scholarly society, we discuss how economists have claimed entitlement to patronage in the closing decades of the twentieth century. We observe a dynamic and productive relationship between politicians and researchers mediated by the National Science Foundation, where civil servants, lobbyist and public minded scientists, and self-serving grantees trade roles.
In this movie commentary (not a review) there will be plenty of plot spoilers. The movie is old, I saw it on Netflix, but if you have not seen it you might not appreciate the below.
It is a movie about our mass suicide, the outcome of our race towards material advancement. The Age of Stupid (2009) could have easily been title Age of Ignorance, both candidates were spoken in sequence by the deflated, rock skinned oil scientist in the final moments of the movie. Ignorance. It is ignorance not on account of missing knowledge but as in ignoring knowledge. Mid-way through the film we hear that lobby groups, and think tanks, that once were banked by Big Tobacco to deny in the public sphere and in Congress the cancerous consequences of smoking are now at work denying global warming. The case made in 10 seconds is fabulously elaborated in a book packed with evidence to corroborate the claim: Merchants of Doubt, by Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes. It turns out that you don’t need to deny the science, you just need to create doubt, suspicion, delay, and confuse.
To me the puzzle of global warming is self interest. How self-interest is fabricated and trafficked across borders, like a new pair of underwear. The most compelling testimonies/characters of the movie were neither the villainous budge airline CEO nor the saintly wind turbine engineer. They were the shell shocked oil scientist and the aspiring and oppressed Nigerian young woman. They embody a confusion that is more organic, not one imposed by neoliberal think tanks, but seemingly one the movie calls “consumerism.” People that can’t reconcile the meaning of the threat with their own sense of worth, identity, and prospect. I am sure I fit there too.
The movie makes an appropriate appeal to collective action but all collective action we see is the self-interest, elistic, kind, voting communities that reject wind farms because they tarnish the view and deflate property values. Self-interest need not be privatized solitude but it is. The self is paper thin, and flying in the wind without attachment. The self is a legal self, a career self, a bodily self, and it is always singular. Perhaps I am saying we need to think ourselves as ecology, as the planet, though that sounds a bit too mystic for my taste, we can certainly think ourselves in good old revolutionary tradition as political, and take ownership not just of our lives but of our polities.
In this movie commentary (not a review) there will be plenty of plot spoilers. If you have not seen the film you might not appreciate the below.
It is a cunning experiment: what kind of humanity would surface from the knowledge that the world would end in weeks? It is not your soft hearted zombie apocalypse where huddling in groups and scavenging and hiding under proper leadership can earn a few weeks, months, years – or at least the two hours of the movie or even a movie trilogy. Few ends of the world are that definitive and one can go on pretending that the future is an open country.
Seeking a friend for the end of the world is about regret and it intends to be about the letting go of regret. Everyone declares that in the final days they just want to be happy, so they drink, eat, fuck, or go on bicycle rides with their mates during the working week. Everyone is changing, turning, plotting, moving. A few do nothing different (are they in denial? Or are they just happy with the lives they have, and carry no regrets?) Some take their lives in a final and desperate act of control.
Our men is all regret. He can’t decide what he regrets the most: rejecting his estranged father, giving up on his high school sweetheart, marrying for safety and convenience, a job as insurance agent peddling a high-premium-no-payback Armageddon package.
There is a fish-bowl quality to the action. One can forgive its TV movie depiction of the rioting (recent history has made us all more aesthetically sophisticated with regard to representations of rioting). But more important, plot turns become weightless and insincere in the crammed clinical world where the characters move. Loose ends remain loose. The movie looks for a balance between addressing regrets, for family principally, and learning to let go of the past and one’s commitments to just enjoy the humanity and beauty of those closer to us. It is a grand and uncourageous message, one that fails to compel.
With eyes and smiles locked the two lovers promise their feeling to the end of days. In a shining cleansing white light, with appropriate sound track, the send claims them and seals their bond. And it is not enough. There is grace in their hopeless surrender but they have not been made anew. Despite what it might have intended. The movie tells us that you can’t unload your baggage. You carry it up to the threshold…
Godley Moves in Mysterious Ways: The Craft of Economic Judgment in Post-war Britain in Contributions in Stock-flow Modeling: Essays in Honor of Wynne Godley, D. Papadimitriou and G. Zezza (eds.) 2012, 12-35.
The essay is a brief biographical sketch of Wynne Godley. It records and comments Godley’s career in government and academia, and examines his approach to economics as craft-like, grounded on a tacit understanding of the structures and movements of economic aggregates.
With this entry I begin a series of uncertain length. Some time ago I used to share my thoughts about movies. There is nothing distinct or distinguished about either the movies or my thinking. Anything goes, blockbuster or cultish, intimate or civic. Take it that I like disclosure as much as I like movies. They are not reviews. They are commentaries. So beware of plot spoilers, lots and lots of plot spoilers.
I spent my Sunday in the cinema watching back to back The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises. It sounded a swell idea three days ago when I booked the tickets under clouds of rain and cold. I foresaw the need for an act of self-indulgence to cancel out a Saturday afternoon in the library. So I sat for over 5 hours in front of the luminous screen while outside summer had finally arrived. The best plans…
The two orphan heroes, and I guess heroes have always been orphans from Orpheus to Superman, filial tragedy and alienation purifies their morel rectitude, are very comparable. For the purpose of organization I take three headings: bodies, gender, and the economics of knowledge.
Spiderman has always been a teen story with ostensible cues about manhood and adulthood as implying sacrifice, privacy and secrecy. It is also about bodies. Spiderman’s angular forms seemingly fragile but infinitely resilient and vital. The new Spiderman captures this better than Tobey Maguire and the story plays it out better than the previous movies. In contrast, Batman who has no privileged body, no genetic enhancement, no alien leg up, is brute force and method training alone. The Dark Knight Rises promised to show the Bat at his weakest, diminished in his confrontation against Bane. And yet, that promising plot line is merely dropped in the last moments of the movie, like something out of a kung fu or boxing script, Bruce Wayne just works harder and his bones, his scars, his age are no more a handicap. It is a body that exists and then disappears when the plot requires it.
There are no women in the Spiderman story, although the love interest is interesting but only because I am a sucker for romance. Is it because the movie addresses a world of boys, those that have yet to start caring about girls? Women in Spiderman are nominally strong. Gwen Stacy is said to be more intelligent than Spiderman and she is fast in language and thought but she does not move the narrative between the boy and the monster (I am tempted to go on an Oedipian tangent, but I hold back.) Women are weightier in Dark Knight Rises. The two main women characters provide most of the plot twists. Unlike the men their morality is tested, their identity challenged and remade. They are adults, they have desires and they matter.
Economics of Knowledge
Corporations are a big part of the Marvel and DC imaginary. Corporations make their profits from innovation alone and their downtown office buildings are packed with labs with real time experimenting, developing arsenals and tour guides for high school students. Invention is the work of single geniuses that double as CEOs, and they always share the wealth in scholarships or alms for the poor. Each genius and only him holds the key to knowledge, at best, they bequeath the talent to their sons. Corporations are benign or evil if the top management decrees it so. The model feels terribly old-fashioned and shuts out an inroad into the ways of money, invention and their corruption in a neoliberal age.
Since 9/11 Spiderman has been holding to become New York’s hero with a Broadway show to boot. A subplot of working class Americana giving our hero the crucial push to meet the bad guy in battle is nearly unforgivable, of how bad it is. Gotham too looks a lot like New York, more than ever. It is no longer a non-place, of shadows and grime. There are American flags and the anthem, recognizable bridges barraged by the American military, and … the New York Stock Exchange. New York has become an emotional cord to be strung for emphasis like some riff of the epic soundtrack.
The following six essays appeared in the online magazine FORTNIGHT between December 17, 2011 and March 10, 2012.
Essay #1 – On Narratives (link, pdf)
Essay #2 – Killing Digital Curation (link, pdf)
Essay #3 – Caricatures (link, pdf)
Essay #4 – Reckonings (link, pdf)
Essay #5 – Ethics in Economics (link, pdf)
Essay #6 – Occupy the Imagination (link, pdf)
With my thanks to the Fortnight team in particular the nurturing editing of Samantha Hinds and Ian Campbell and the remarkable illustrations of Matt McCann.