Home > Uncategorized > How U.S. capitalism lifts all boats

How U.S. capitalism lifts all boats

from Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler

Nitzan june 4

Liberals insist that capitalism lifts all boats. It doesn’t, certainly not in the U.S. Since 1880, ‘real’ total returns on the S&P 500 rose, on an annual average, 4.6% faster than U.S. ‘real’ wages. The total returns/wage ratio today is 1,166 greater than in 1880.

  1. Robert Locke
    June 4, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    People keep repeating this argument. Just make sure that Republicans lose.

  2. June 4, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    You think Democrats will alter this long-term trajectory?

    • Ikonoclast
      June 5, 2021 at 12:15 am

      This answers JN’s rhetorical question rather well and illustrates why the trajectory of US capitalism and its coming collision with CCP capitalism is highly unlikely to alter under the Democrats. It is an excellent historical and institutional analysis.


      What’s more, there is not one faux economic equation in the whole text. Of course, in classical and neoclassical economics “faux economic equation” is a tautology. All the equations are faux. This is not so in Capital as Power’s analysis where a proper delineation (both ontological and scientific) is made between the nominal and the real.

  3. Ahmed Fares
    June 4, 2021 at 11:05 pm

    The graph is misleading.

    It compares wages which are a flow variable to the value of a stock market investment which is a stock variable.

    Worse yet, it assumes reinvested earnings for the stock market investor but not the worker. In reality, a portion of a worker’s earnings end up being invested, if not in the stock market, then usually in real estate. A fair comparison would have included the returns for those investments also.

    Apples and oranges.

  4. Ken Zimmerman
    June 5, 2021 at 1:37 am

    If capitalist theory played out as Adam Smith preferred, a case might be made for this hypotheses. But it hasn’t so there is no case.

    First, one of the themes on which Smith focuses is that humans are social beings. Smith investigates forms of social interaction, like buying and selling or praising and blaming, but he also looks, more generally, at how humans try to make sense of the world around them and of one another in it. Precisely because they are social creatures, humans do not, and cannot, do this on their own. They have to interact or communicate. This general question features prominently in the Essays as well as in some of his Glasgow lectures.

    Damn little of this in recent capitalist theory or research.

    Second, the title of Smith’s other major work, ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ is revealing. Smith’s decision to call it a ‘theory’ tells the reader that it is work of enquiry or philosophy. At the same time it implies that it is not a guidebook instructing the reader how to live morally. Perhaps, because many other 18th-century works on ‘morality’ were ‘how to’ manuals of that sort, Smith added a sub-title to the third edition. This announced that the book was ‘An Essay towards an Analysis of the Principles by which Men naturally judge concerning the Conduct and Character, first of their Neighbours, and afterwards of themselves’. What the book sets out to do is investigate or analyse how, in practice, judgments and decisions about what is right or wrong are made.

    The term ‘sentiments’ in the book’s title is also informative. It locates the book in a particular tradition of moral philosophy and one that was especially strong in Scotland. The Scots are empiricists, that is knowledge derives from experience. We know rain is wet because we feel it on our skin; we know that the ancient Romans wore togas because we have evidence from statuary and literature; we know that the tribes of North America are war-like because we have corroboratory evidence from missionaries and explorers. Moral knowledge is no exception. According to the Scots’ moral philosophy, the evidence is that humans experience and respond to the world through feeling or emotion or sentiment. We all feel anger towards cheats, we all feel affection to those who support us, we all feel compassion toward the unfortunate, and so on. Feelings or emotions act as motives. We are moved to anger. What moves humans are their desires or passions

    Here the Scottish empiricists hit a problem. The source of this problem was the reading of the ‘evidence’ that was put forward by two (non-Scottish) thinkers in particular—Thomas Hobbes (1588−1679) and Bernard Mandeville (1670−1733). The agenda for the Scots’ moral philosophy, including Smith’s, was developed in response to their argument. For Hobbes the fact about humans is that they are concerned with their own well-being or self-interest to the exclusion of others. Each and every person is motivated by their passions: if they want something they are driven toward obtaining it; and, conversely, if they are afraid they are driven away from what scares them. As an account of motivation, with one crucial exception, there was nothing here to which Smith and others would object. The exception was Hobbes’ insistence on exclusivity. According to Hobbes individuals were always either actually or potentially in competition with each other. His solution to that unbridled competition was to establish an authorized sovereign, who would enforce ‘fair play’ or, more broadly, end disputes about justice or what is right and good.

    For contemporaries and successors this was unacceptable because it reduced morality to doing what the sovereign said. One influential counter to Hobbes was given by Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671−1713). Shaftesbury thought Hobbes’ philosophy rested on a faulty reading of human nature. Humans were not exclusively self-centred; they also possessed what he called a ‘natural moral sense’. Here Shaftesbury introduced the terminology that the Scots would adopt. Including Smith.

    Damn little of this in recent capitalist theory or research.

  5. Ikonoclast
    June 5, 2021 at 1:54 am

    I would think that “Total Return” is a flow.

    “Total return, when measuring performance, is the actual rate of return of an investment or a pool of investments over a given evaluation period. Total return includes interest, capital gains, dividends, and distributions realized over a period. Total return accounts for two categories of return: income including interest paid by fixed-income investments, distributions, or dividends and capital appreciation, representing the change in the market price of an asset.” – Investopedia.

    Starting Stock + Total Return = New Stock. J.N. clearly labels the graph to indicate he is graphing the Total Return Index and NOT stock.

    Few manufacturing workers have ever invested in income generating real estate, as opposed to investing in a mortgage for a domicile. Even that period (the period where waged non-professional workers could afford a home mortgage) is coming to an end. Read Thomas Piketty and read Jonathan Nitzan (with Bichler) and one will come to an in-depth understanding of what is happening and has been happening since the inception of Western capitalism.

    One could argue that capitalism slightly lifted all boats until about 1980 (in absolute terms). But this is like comparing the lift of a brand new super-yacht to the lift of a dinghy with a re-patched sail. But since 1980 the dinghies of the working poor have been slowly sinking. The vast relative divergence is actually kind of disguised by the logarithmic scale of the graph. The real divergence is stupendous.

    All this speaks to one of my obsessions or idees fixe and that is the issue of unsustainable trends. There are some horrendously unsustainable trends going on here. The first is the trend to ecological overshoot and collapse for the whole system. The second is the trend to the non-reproduction of the middle and working classes. Another way to put that latter point is to say that these classes are declining into precarity and thence into extinction as classes and finally as living humans (unless the clear trend it arrested at some point).

    The works of Piketty (from a different angle) and the works of Nitzan, Bichler and Fix (Capital as Power) demonstrate that capitalism functions as a formal and prescriptive axiom, algorithm and calculation set for the allocation of money returns. This prescriptive set whilst enforced and obeyed generates theorems NOT natural or real laws. I trust people reading this understand the difference between a theorem and a fundamental law of nature. If not:

    “In mathematics and logic, a theorem is a non-self-evident statement that has been proven to be true, either on the basis of generally accepted statements such as axioms or on the basis of previously established statements such as other theorems. A theorem is hence a logical consequence of the axioms, with a proof of the theorem being a logical argument which establishes its truth through the inference rules of a deductive system. As a result, the proof of a theorem is often interpreted as justification of the truth of the theorem statement. In light of the requirement that theorems be proved, the concept of a theorem is fundamentally deductive, in contrast to the notion of a scientific law, which is experimental. – Wikipedia.

    Where axioms are wholly prescriptive, then the theorems are wholly a consequence of the initial prescriptions and have no longer any sound derivation from the empirical. The axioms of capitalism are wholly prescriptive once reduced to legal and financial law. This is important.”Once reduced to legal and financial law” is the key phrase because once so reduced to legal and financial law the axioms become wholly prescriptive in their further operation, regardless of their original derivation and justification. The capitalist instantiation of property is wholly prescriptive, in practice, even though its developmental and legalistic justifications made appeals to atavistic drives (territoriality and acquisitiveness including the acquisition of breeding mates) and derives the maintenance of its extant appeal and justification from those sources, these axioms lead to (previously) unforeseen theorems. These theorems have had to be uncovered by (mainly) Marx, Piketty,, Bichler and Nitzan to date.

    The fact that these theoretically obvious and deducible theorems have had to be uncovered by a long and painstaking process of scholarship speaks to some level of philosophical and logical difficulty as well as the real issue of “emergence” but it also speaks the levels of self-interest, reason-destroying passion and motivated reasoning enlisted in keeping the theoretically clear so horrendously obscured under mountains of ideology.

    In my view, Nitzan’s graph is a theorem depiction in the above sense. It depicts what was always going to happen and will continue to be the trend (excluding force majure or deus ex machina) so long as the prescriptive axioms were and are adhered to. Of course force majure looms in the form of ecological collapse or as real human rebellion (which latter is a kind of force majure emerging from basic human corporeal and neurological nature).

    Bichler and Nitzan show the unvarnished truth of what is actually going on. We would do well to remember Schopenhauer.

    “A Truth is permitted only a brief victory celebration between the two long periods where it is first condemned as paradoxical and later disparaged as trivial.” – Arthur Schopenhauer.

    The work of Bichler and Nitzan is often still being condemned as paradoxical, where it is being noticed at all. Quite soon, in historical terms, it may be disparaged as trivially obvious by those who do not understand the rigors of swimming against earlier tides of ideology and intellectual fashion. Let us hope, in a sense, that B&N’s insights are eventually condemned as trivially obvious by the unthinking. That will mean truth and common sense have finally met on this matter and the murk of capitalist ideology has been dispelled.

  6. June 5, 2021 at 1:59 am

    1. Ahmed, you are correct, this chart compares apples and oranges. I wonder if that’s so bad, though.

    2. The total returns includes reinvested dividends, so it is a stock-flow hybrid. Also, bear in mind that the total return index of the leading investors — what we call dominant capital — tends to rise much faster than that of the S&P500.

    3. Regarding the underlying population, according to the U.S. Survey of Consumer Finance [link below], in 2019, the bottom half had very small retirement account saving: the poorest 25% of households had $4,700 per family, and the next 25% have $19,000 per family. The next 25% had more, but scarcely enough to retire. These savings have risen only marginally over the past 20 years. So by and large, most workers, let alone the unemployed, have little to ‘invest’, as you call it. Unlike the big stock owners, they simply survive month to month.


    4. Now, if we take the S&P500 total return series and compute its annual geometric growth rate, we get 6.4% (6321 to the power of 1/141 minus 1). That’s certainly faster than the 1.2% growth rate of ‘real wages’ (5.42 to the power of 1/141 minus 1). And this is just for starters, since the capital gains of the top 1%, 0.1% and 0.01% who own most of the stocks, are orders of magnitude greater than the incomes of the average worker.

  7. Ahmed Fares
    June 5, 2021 at 8:12 pm


    “I would think that “Total Return” is a flow.”

    It is when viewed on a yearly basis.

    The correct thing to compare that against is not wages, but the return to an investment in human capital. Recall how they used to say that a college degree added about a million dollars to average lifetime earnings. The median, which is a better measure, was about $500k. The IRR for an investment in a college education was about 7%, give or take. That return has fallen over time due to degree inflation.

    For those without a college education, the return to human capital is the public investment in K-12 education.

  8. Ahmed Fares
    June 5, 2021 at 8:41 pm

    Jonathan Nitzan,

    I agree that inequality is a big problem, but that is a separate issue, best solved by more wealth redistribution and things that lead to equality of opportunity, like giving everyone free post-secondary education and a living stipend, like they do in Denmark.

    As for wages and wage growth, I believe that workers earn their marginal product. Wage growth, absent inflation, can only come from growth in productivity. Which is why the typical wage growth is about 3%, 2% to account for inflation, and 1% for productivity.

    Any wage growth higher than that will simply lead to higher prices, leaving real wages unchanged. As for the labor share of output, here is a quote about Bowley’s Law:

    Bowley’s law, also known as the law of the constant wage share, is a stylized fact of economics which states that the wage share of a country, i.e., the share of a country’s economic output that is given to employees as compensation for their work (usually in the form of wages), remains constant over time.

    Some believe the wage share has been declining, but this has been shown to be a measurement problem in both how the labor share and the capital share are measured, with too many details to go into here.

    As an aside, and absent more wealth redistribution, we should expect more inequality due to the “superstar effect”, which is enabled by digital technology. Here is an example of the superstar effect.

    In a 1981 paper published in the American Economics Review, the economist Sherwin Rosen worked through the mathematics that explains why superstars, like Pavarotti, reap so many more rewards than peers who are only slightly less talented. He called the phenomenon, “The Superstar Effect.”

    Though the details of Rosen’s formulas are complex, the intuition is simple: imagine a million opera fans who each have $10 to spend on an opera album. They’re trying to decide whether to buy an album by Florez or Pavarotti. Rosen’s theory predicts that the bulk of the consumers will purchase the Pavarotti album, thinking, roughly: “although both singers are great, Pavarotti is the best, and if I can only get one album I might as well get the best one available.” The result is that the vast majority of the $10 million goes to Pavarotti, even though his talent advantage over Florez is small.

    — Cal Newport (2010) “From CEOs to Opera Singers – How to Harness the Superstar Effect”

    Here is another example, this time with newspapers, again because of digital technology:

    Joshua Benton at the LA Times illustrates average is over for newspapers. On the left the print circulation of major newspapers in 2002. The NYTimes is the leader but other newspapers follow closely behind in a slowly decaying curve likely related to city size. On the right, 2019 digital subscriptions. The NYTimes dominates. Only the Washington Post is even in the same league (The Wall Street Journal, however, should also have made Benton’s list at 1.5 million digital subscribers.) Without classified ads and other local information, for which there are now multiple online substitutes, there isn’t a big demand for local newspapers. News is now national and only a handful of newspapers can survive at national scale. Moreover, the few who can survive at national scale are now so much better than their competitors precisely because they can afford to be better.

    Average is Over: Newspaper Edition (Alex Tabarrok) – Marginal Revolution

  9. June 5, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    “I believe that workers earn their marginal product.”

    With all due respect, I don’t argue with beliefs — especially of the neoclassical kind, and particularly those concerning the imaginary quantum called “marginal productivity.”

    • Ikonoclast
      June 5, 2021 at 10:50 pm

      Nitzan: With all due respect, I don’t argue with beliefs.
      Ikono: Why then sir, you must never argue,

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one. More seriously, our greatest endogenous problem inheres in the widespread and deep belief in capitalism which still has 95% of the population, as a conservative estimate, in thrall in the neoliberal West.. Since logic and argument are well nigh useless against beliefs, that leaves force or power. I guess that CasP theoreticians and advocates would agree. Capital is a form of power. It’s also not the only form of power.

      If we don’t propose the application of logic and argument to change matters then we must propose the use of power or else assume a stance of passivity and quietism. What does CasP propose? I think that is a valid question.

      Marx wrote in the Theses on Feurbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

      It appears to me that CasP is very much an interpretational research program though I have seen some practical recommendations like the one for a state housing program. How does CasP propose that we should amend or supersede capitalism, if it does so propose? After my (overly?) fulsome praise of the intellectual advance of the central CasP thesis and its creators, my conviction of the importance of CasP theory cannot be doubted, I think.

      Nevertheless, I ask in a pragmatic and practical vein, “Where do we take it?” I mean we who see through the fallacies of capitalism. There is certainly something hubristic and even immature in imagining that we, individually or even in small groups, can change the world. As an old(-ish) man of 67 I have come to realize that. My own career, such as it was, could be summed up as “I changed nothing. I kept a few extant systems (of capitalism and state welfarism) running with my proportionally minuscule contributions – minuscule compared to the whole. Indeed, a proper analysis of capitalism notes the importance of the pro-capitalist state in maintaining capitalism, including state welfare distributions which go to corporations as least much as they go to the poor! I refer to the vast corporate subsidy systems of the modern state.

      It seems we traded impotence before nature, from which arose the impulse to create settlements and civilize, for impotence before the megamachine as Mumford defines it. And the internal SIS (socially imaginary significations) of most individuals, enculturated and indoctrinated into capitalism as they are, remains woefully inadequate to understanding what our political economy system actually is and what it is doing to nature and humans.

      The central philosophical problem here (a moral and political problem) would seem to be “Why do we bother if we can’t change anything?” History to date has shown that capitalism is running on metal rails. It seems to show a high degree of determinism [1] in where it is going. I ponder, a little tongue in cheek, should I give up any interest in political economy and adopt a non-theistic Buddhist quietism (as the philosophy most congenial and indeed realistic to my mind)?

      Note 1. I do not mean to imply that every detail, every fenestration, of capitalism’s progress and productions is determined. I do mean to imply that its overall course or trajectory does appear to be heavily determined. I mean of course its axiomatically prescribed course of endless growth, endless exploitation and endless destruction of nature. Of course, the system cannot really be endless. When the biosphere (as a balanced and benign support system for humans) is destroyed, then capitalism will be destroyed, along with any hope for any other system.

      • June 5, 2021 at 11:47 pm

        Ikonoclast, your ‘what’s-to-be-done’ question is difficult to answer.

        1. I have been reading, researching and writing political economy for over 40 years now, and Shimshon has done it for longer. As far as I know, we have never managed to significantly change the mind of a single neoclassicist or Marxist. People who hold strong views rarely change them. So we have learnt from experience and don’t waste our time on futile bickering. It’s much more fruitful to address those who haven’t been conditioned by economics.

        2. Ideas are crucial. God is said to have created the world with his mere words. Although democratic science and philosophy change slowly, often one coffin at a time, they are a major driver of reality, for good or bad.

        3. The actual world of hierarchical power stifles free thinking, but it does not eliminate it altogether. We continue to read, write and research, even when we witness little or no impact. Democritus’ atoms waited 2000 years before having a meaningful impact. We hope our own ideas won’t have to wait that long, and that it won’t be too late when they are finally taken seriously.

        4. A modest proposal for the younger generation of social scientists and activists: to help you find out what ‘should be done’, create autonomous, non-academic research institutes to investigate what ‘is’.

      • June 6, 2021 at 4:02 pm

        This (including Ike below) is a jolly good discussion, which has apparently overflowed from “The ritual of capitalisation”.

        My objection to gratuitous misrepresentation there of Christian doctrine has here reduced to a significant misconception.

        “2. Ideas are crucial. God is said to have created the world with his mere words”. Not “with” but “as” his words, representing himself in children made “in his own image and likeness”.

        Ike cheers himself up by realising “Chaos theory and emergence theory … can lead to a radically changed entire system at a later time, t2. It is still possible, in that sense, to hope for radical change for the better”. Or one can get lost.

        At Note 1 he then justifies his pessimism much as I would, in terms of physiological differences and it taking all sorts to make a world. At 4.45 pm below he again agrees with me:

        “1. Man depends on the cosmos.

        With Ahmed I would indeed rather say:

        2. Man depends on the cosmos depends on God [which changes nothing for science but allows for religious gratitude].

        Earlier I found myself very much in agreement with Ahmed:

        “I agree that inequality is a big problem, but that is a separate issue, best solved by more wealth redistribution and things that lead to equality of opportunity, like giving everyone free post-secondary education and a living stipend, like they do in Denmark”. This Danish model was for me encouraging news.

        On “The first error that discussions about power have is that people think there is some power outside of God”. This is probably semantics, but if God made us in his own image and likeness, perhaps there is, if not much?

        I found Ken very helpful on the Hobbes connection with “The ritual of capitalisation”. But back to Jonathan above:

        “Ikonoclast, your ‘what’s-to-be-done’ question is difficult to answer”.

        Like Ike I agree with your points, and I’m not going to disagree with your “4. A Modest Proposal”. What I want to suggest is that the Newtonian “power” framework is out of date, being established before electric circuits were discovered (never mind before Gerald Edelman’s “Bright Fire, Brilliant Water” demonstrated the existence of neural circuits).

        With circuits, the problem is not power but where is the power directed to by the circuit? What needs to be done is to tell the truth about money so that different neural circuits are activated and our resultant actions become normalised to produce more or less Ahmed’s Danish solution.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 6, 2021 at 2:19 am


      I agree with your points. Let me tease out my own views a little more and then come back to your points which I commend for their mature realism.

      I do have to keep reminding myself to hold on to some hope. This is because my mind has a strong pessimism bias. The default for most persons, who are not subjected to cruelty or deprivation during upbringing, is an optimism bias. But there is a significant minority, of whom I am one, who fairly clearly have a congenital pessimism bias. This could well be the result of mutations, recessive genes or other genetic factors. I was not subjected to cruelty or deprivation during my upbringing so the cause of my pessimism bias must lie elsewhere [1].

      First, we must consider the issue of optimism bias. There is some research now in the AI field which shows that in problems dealing with risk, reward and uncertainty, the possession of moderate optimism bias in the algorithms and heuristics used for assessments for action, is a positive factor for overall performance and adoption of adaptive strategies and tactics to environment. Excess optimism bias affects performance and adaptiveness on average. Although the rare crazily optimistic person can be stunningly successful through a series of “lucky bets” essentially, most people badly affected by excess over-optimism and Dunning-Kruger effect soon come a severe cropper and even experience a life-wrecking event.

      Second, we must consider why the “pessimism gene” (which is a simplification) persists in evolutionary terms. Does pessimism confer a positive selection bias under some conditions? I think the answer has to be yes, in some cases and to a great enough degree that pessimism biases can also persist. In cooperative organisms, from certain fungi (IIRC) to eusocial organisms like humans, there is a natural range or spectrum of clumping or social organsims to loner organisms. A basically social or cooperative species may comprise a majority who “prefer” to clump and a minority who “prefer” to be loners or outliers at minimal, moderate or great distances from their fellows.

      There are arguably evolutionary causes for this arrangement. If the species has evolved over time to deal with both conditions benign for large, clumped populations and other conditions which wipe out clumps and spare or miss outliers then genes for clumping and for dispersal may both be preserved, albeit to different frequency of occurence. The optimism – pessimism spectrum might well operate in the same manner. Humans are distributed with the optimism bias in the considerable majority. One could, pejoratively, superciliously and a bit nastily I guess, call these people “happy and compliant idiots”, though many arre not idiots and some are remarkably intelligent. I suppose thinking that is a little like referring to “useful idiots”. I certainly feel that a large proprtion of certain types of happiness is bound up with credulity, conformism and uncriticality of extant SIS.

      In other words, pessimism and indeed misanthropy may indeed be a necessary antidote, in and from some persons, and in certain doses, to the relatively unbridled optimism of both the happy masses when they are materially and somatically happy [2] and the hubristic and manipulative elites who consider they know all and know how to manage all, mainly for their own satisfaction of course. This is to say there are certain times in our history when Cassandras, Jermiahs and Jeremiads ARE to be listened to and may indeed help others to save something from the impending wreck by taking some timely action.

      In relation to your points.

      First, you have changed my mind. But perhaps I was ready for change. I was a Marxian-Humean-Peircian, complex systems, scientific thinker though: not an orthodox, doctrinaire Marxist. I was frustrated by my failure to solve, ontologically, the “value controversy” or clearly flawed value theory of classical and neoclassical economics. I leaned towards the SNALT at first but I could see it was somewhere from inadequate to wholly false ontologically speaking, although it did possess considerable moral justification and some approximation to lived social and class truth in the hard labor era of early and parts of late industrial capitalism. I was also aware that considerations in Marx’s “Fragment on machines” in the Grundrisse intimated (at the least) that doctrinaire Marxists never read or never understood the deeper philosophical dialectics of Marx at all, stuck as they were in crude dialectical materialism (as opposed to a complex system feed-backs understanding of material or real structure and of formal superstructure (the extant, accepted, conventional, institutionalized SIS and all its axioms, algorithms, heuristics of calculative and justificatory nature).

      When I understood, even if partially and imperfectly, the central CasP theses, I realized you had solved value theory by definitively falsifying it, scientifically, empirically and ontologically, in toto. In this manner you had cut the Gordian knot of its entire convoluted mystification-justification tangle. That achievement I applaud, envy (being only human) and take on board because (I hope) my allegiance to truths (as opposed to mere nominally defined “Truth”) in the Kantian and then Peircian senses relates to the issue of specific truths belonging only to specific, empirically verifiable propositions. Your ontological and scientific discovery of the purely nominal nature of economic value, as formally quantified and used to equate incommensurables via the numeraire, is indisputable and scientifically provable as you have demonsrated. Hat tip to Blair Fix too who has given some very cogent scientific proofs and cogent ontology of science proofs.

      Second, I agree ideas are crucial. The formal informs and alters the real through human agency just as the real alters the formal, through human perception and thence through and in neurological physical eletrical-chemical constructs and processes. It’s a complex system, iterative, emergence process. But I will stop myself there for this post

      Third, I agree with your point three. You inherent optimism bias which I suspect you have, as must do all successful yet unconventional academic thinkers and teachers, does help re0align my excessive pessimism bias. I reckon your IQ and Shimshon’s IQ (not to mention the collecive CasP projects’ IQ) are all considerably higher than my pedestrian albiet doggedly employed one. Your modesty will forbid agreement but I assign the appellation and rank of intellectually innovative genius to your and Shimshon’s work (so far as I understand it.)

      Fourth, your modest proposal makes emergentist-evolutionary sense if I may put it like that. There is certainly room for hope there. Chaos theory and emergence theory can and do posit that a slight change in initial conditions at time t1 (e,g, a genuinely new or novelly emerged idea) can lead to a radically changed entire system at a later time, t2. It is still possible, in that sense, to hope for radical change for the better. Such emergentist and evolutionary thinking is certainly in line with my (as I put it) priority monist, complex systems philsophy. At the same time I think there is a place for the Jeremiahs of this world to frighten some sense into the blithe multitudes if possible with salutary lesson backed by the salutary and certain difficulties even now arising in the biosphere and our politial economy and their interactions.

      Anyhoo, this pessimist and misanthrope salutes you and your team and I most sincerely thank you. A grain of hope from CasP in a purblind world really does help. Cheers. :)

      Note 1.

      I have come to consider, after long experience in and of this world and also some formal scientific education, that there are neurological reasons (real brain structure and neuro electrical-chemical reasons) for my or any person’s pessimism or optimism bias. Suffice it to say here that I consider that all brain processing activities have somatic origins for what they do with stimulus and inputs. These somatic pathways are heavily determined by genotype and phenotype. Phenotype in turn is also influenced by nurture.

      Note 2.

      I hold as a priority monist, complex systems, materialist [3] that the terms “physiological” and “psyche” are so vague as to refer nothing useful. This is despite the fact that I do hold that qualia, including somatic feeling and conscious thought streams are real and do exist

      Note 3. Strictly speaking I am an “existentist” which is a philosophical position taken to avoid claims to know the true essence of brute facts inhering in bald assertions of “materalism”. But I am a materialist for all practical, empirical and scientific purposes.

      • Ikonoclast
        June 6, 2021 at 2:34 am

        Oops, typo:

        For “I hold as a priority monist, complex systems, materialist [3] that the terms “physiological” and “psyche” are so vague as to refer nothing useful.” read

        I hold as a priority monist, complex systems, materialist [3] that the terms “psychological” and “psyche” are so vague as to refer nothing useful. I prefer “brain”, ‘mind”, “neurological” and in general terms from neurological science.

  10. Ahmed Fares
    June 6, 2021 at 1:48 am

    The first error that discussions about power have is that people think there is some power outside of God. Lift the veil of causality and this is what remains:

    If all mankind, jinn, angels, and devils combined their efforts to move or to still a single particle of the universe without His will and choice, they would be unable to. —Al-Ghazali (The Jerusalem Treatise)

    The second error that people make is that thinking having more wealth is better, not that I’m glorifying poverty. A moderate amount of wealth is best. An interesting quote to that effect:

    “Whoever has health insurance, needs God only half as much as before, but whoever has life insurance, does not need him [God] at all.” —Peter Sloterdijk (professor of philosophy and media theory at the University of Art and Design Karlsruhe)

    For those that believe in Divine Providence, and given human nature, having excess of wealth means that God wants nothing more to do with you. There are exceptions to this of course but generally speaking, being richer makes it harder to be close to God. The whole thing about the camel passing through the eye of the needle thing. In that vein, the rich deserve our pity and not our envy.

    It is good, and I’m speaking from experience here, for one to have suffered some poverty in their younger days, such that when wealth arrives, one is already immunized against it.

    • Ikonoclast
      June 6, 2021 at 4:45 am


      Your post probably requires a long reply or no reply at all. I will try to steer a middle course. As an agnostic, I don’t think talk about God gets us very far in practical earthly discussions. There will be too many disagreements about dogmas, creeds and beliefs, in broad brush and in detail. Whether faith discussions help people in other ways or after mortal life I don’t know and don’t feel able to discern very well.

      Yet, I think there are points of meeting. What you say about God as first cause or prime cause can simply be said about the known, detectable cosmos EXCEPT that we must take the cosmos as first known and detectable cause (for science) and not as first or ultimate cause per se. This is because with science and empiricism we can only talk of what is known from direct experience. The distant cosmos (aspects of it) is the farthest” thing”, at its detectable spacetime limits, that we can know of from direct, objective, material observations. The fundamental laws of nature (as so far discovered by the hard sciences) are the deepest and most general existents (as laws of relation between other known existents) that we can discover and model, at least by practical and scientific means.

      Given the above, what can we agree upon about God, cosmos and man? We can agree that man’s power (in any of its forms) is contingent and derivative. I would simply say:

      1. Man depends on the cosmos.

      You would simply say, I assume:

      2. Man depends on the cosmos depends on God.

      We can agree on the first term. “Man depends on the cosmos” and also put in an intermediary term and a supplementary term if we wish. Man depends on the world depends on the cosmos depends on immanent (endogenous) and/or transcendent (exogenous) laws.

      A key point we can agree upon is that we as humans have no control, no power over these cosmic laws be they immanent or transcendent. I quite agree with the philosopher Francis Bacon who wrote:

      “Towards the effecting of works, all that man can do is put together or put asunder natural bodies. The rest is done by nature working within.”

      A farmer plants seed and irrigates it. He puts together bodies, meaning material or corporeal objects like seed, earth, water and fertilizer. But the growth of the plant occurs by nature working within. With modern science we can understand cause and effect to a very considerable extent. For example genetics helps us understand how each plant and animal produces its offspring “after its own kind”. But ultimately we cannot understand why a fundamental law exists or why the most fundamental discoverable processes are impelled to occur. That is nature working within or God working within depending on one’s ultimate beliefs, further conditioned by what one means precisely and extensively by terms like “nature” or “God”.

      To me, the lesson in each case is for humility, not pride. Remember, nature or God (depending on how far one is willing to, or feels the need to take, views and beliefs) does almost everything. We do relatively little and all that we do is in any case totally contingent and dependent on something greater than ourselves: the cosmos and its fundamental laws or God.

      I agree with your statements on wealth. Excess wealth and power in human hands is damaging to self, others and the biosphere. For humans, power corrupts and absolute (earthly) power corrupts absolutely in this life. It is ironic that that saying came from Lord Acton who no doubt as a temporal lord had too much wealth and power and in his own way would have lorded it over others.

      I don’t know if the rich deserve pity, maybe some do. But they all deserve to have their privileges curtailed and be brought back to a general level of wealth that is sustainable for all people. As a developed world middle class person I am, relatively speaking, too rich compared to the world’s poor.So I too should ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for me.

      • June 6, 2021 at 10:43 pm

        Ike, see my comments above where I largely agree with you. I’ve dealt with the “humility” issue indirectly, asking “Is some power outside of God.? This is probably semantics, but if God made us in his own image and likeness, perhaps there is, if not much?”

        The Big Bang theory of creation has unfortunately suggested another possibility: that God blew himself up to initiate cosmic evolution, reducing his own immortality to the conservation of energy and communicating his love by re-enacting it in the life and death of his Word. This is “unfortunate” in that it leaves us responsible for what happens: as St Theresa put it: “God now has no hands but ours”. That is not to say there is no brain but God’s. Words can be translated, passed down and acted on (or reacted to), so in that sense we need never be alone.

        I like your Bacon quote, “all that man can do is put together or put asunder”, but I came to see the religious “gratitude” aspect by disagreeing with J S Mill’s “Utilitarianism” basing economics on the pursuit of a happiness not very clearly distinguished from pleasure. That, it seemed to me, was the aim. What one ought to be pursuing was the cause. So my wife and I asked each other why we were happy, and were agreed that it was we were grateful for having each other. You may see here the beginnings of my interest in systems theory. “Happiness ins a chain reaction, in which a gift given gracefully and received gratefully leads the recipient to give gracefully themselves”. The converse also applies: immense pain can be caused when a helping hand is taken advantage of.

  11. John Jensen
    June 9, 2021 at 3:28 am

    Cutting through all the philisophical verbiage. The graph shows that capital grows roughly at a compound rate of 10%/year and labour grows at roughly 2% (+ 1/2 of the inflation rate over 2%) and also compounded yearly. Labour obviously his little hope of beating capital asit compounds at a higher rate. But, as we tax the capital growth annually we can continue to improve the infrastructure each year (on average) and at least that makes it seem that labour is incrementally better off each year. So, all we are looking at in this graph is simply about differing compounding rates. And we justify the differing compound rates by telling labour they have low risk growth rates and capital faces high risk growth rates – and it’s true. You can check the growth rates yourself and risk “should” have a risk premium. But each growth rate can be changed politically by raising the tax rates on capital and further improving infrastructure – including free education and free health care. There are many really good reasons why there are over 9 million (mostly high tech) jobs posted and only 2.5 million (mostly high school educated) workers available in America. Including the fact that America educates more lawyers and legal assistants than engineers and technicians. The problem is all political!

  12. Ahmed Fares
    June 11, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    John Jensen,

    The graph shows that capital grows roughly at a compound rate of 10%/year and labour grows at roughly 2% (+ 1/2 of the inflation rate over 2%) and also compounded yearly.

    Still wrong.

    Assume that you have two people, one has a stock portfolio of $400k earning a 10% rate of return, i.e., $40k a year, and the other has a job earning $40k a year. If the stock investor consumes all of their return by spending both the dividends and selling off the retained earnings portion of their portfolio, which shows up as capital appreciation, then the next year’s return for the stock investor will be the same $40k as before.

    To keep up with the worker, the stock portfolio investor will have to invest more than $400k such that they can retain that 2% to account for inflation over time.

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