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Forbes and the "Self-Made" Label

by cactus

Forbes and the “Self-Made” Label

I’m kinda busy these days, but this topic is small pet peeve of mine: what the heck is up with Forbes and the “self-made” label? On occasion, I’ve gone through the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans and marveled at who Forbes manages to decide qualifies as self-made.

Case in point. Take Aubrey McClendon, head of Chesapeake Energy, the largest independent gas producer in the US. His great-uncle was a governor and a three-time senator, and also co-founded a large oil company. His father worked for the company for 35 years, and one imagines he wasn’t a janitor or nightwatchman.

McClenond himself will tell you:

I had some early financial advantages in life that probably let me take a chance or two that I wouldn’t have been able to

But to Forbes, McClendon is a self-made man.

A few spots up from McClendon is another self-made dude (according to Forbes), Paul Tudor Jones II. The “II” is not an automatic marker of wealth, but it should have been a tip-off to Forbes that perhaps it was worth visiting “teh google”, which would have been kind enough to guide them toward this interview:

I already had an appreciation for trading because my uncle, Billy Dunavant, was a very successful cotton trader. In 1976, after I finished college, I went to my uncle and asked him if he could help me get started as a trader. he sent me to Eli Tullis, a famous cotton trader, who lived in New Orleans. Eli is the best trader I know, he told me. I went down to see Eli and he offered me a job on the floor of the New York Cotton Exchange.

And the name “Dunavant” should have rung a bell to Forbes – after all, Forbes ranks Dunavant Enerprises as one of the 400 largest private firms in the US. Another thirty seconds of “research” would have told the folks at Forbes this:

His paternal grandfather, Colonel William P. Dunavant, was in the railroad business and created one of the main cotton transporting railroads of the time, a railroad that grew into the southern leg of the famous Frisco Railroad. Billy’s father, William Dunavant, began working for T. J. White and Company at the age of twenty-one. After White retired, the company was passed to William Dunavant; however, because of the untimely death of his father in 1961, Billy Dunavant took over the company at the age of twenty-nine.

I’ll concede that a stream of events where all this is true and Tudor Jones was none-the-less a penniless guy who pulled himself up by his bootstraps in a way that the rest of us were just too lazy to accomplish. It does seem unlikely, though. A more reasonable description of events is that this is another example (I’ve had a post or two on this in the past) that Forbes simply has a tendency label some very unlikely individuals as being self-made. And from what I can tell, this is a Forbes thing; most of the folks Forbes gives this label to that the rest of us might not don’t go around insisting they’re self-made. (I believe I recall one counter-example.) So what’s up with Forbes and the use of this label?
by cactus

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Same labels, same old stuff

One Salient Oversight sends some thoughts from down under on recycling labels:

Think of the common labels thrown out against political opponents these
days. What sort of political thinking would be labelled in the following

* The propagation of ideas like Darwinism, Marxism, the teachings of
Nietzche, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism and Anarchism.
* A focus on Utopianism that is actually unattainable because of the
underlying conspiracy within the group.
* A movement towards materialism.
* Supporting supranational entities notions such as World Government.
* A control of the media to promote these evil ideas, under the
guise of a “free press” (which is actually controlled by the conspiracy).
* Sexual licence.
* An opposition to Christianity and a promotion of secularism and
atheism – but with an actual evil religion under girding it.

All those descriptions can quite easily be seen as being directed by
conservatives against progressives. Consider the following:

* Conservatives often use progressive ideas as a pejorative, and
will quite easily label a progressive by a general term. Labelling them
as “communists”, for example, even though they don’t espouse Communism.
* An argument that progressive ideas are based upon a vision of a
“false utopia”.
* An argument that progressives cannot tolerate faith and are
inherently materialist.
* Complete opposition to any notion that supranational entities like
the United Nations and the European Union are useful. Such entities are
either threats to freedom or full of incompetents. Those who support
such entities are thus evil.
* That the “Mainstream Media” is inherently “liberal” and has an
agenda to promote a particular point of view under the guise of the
“free press”.
* That sexual licence promoted by progressives will end up leading
to the destruction of traditional marriage and enforced sexual
perversions (like paedophilia and bestiality).
* That a conspiracy of progressives is trying to destroy
Christianity and replace it with atheism, and that such a conspiracy
has, at its base, Satanic and pagan influences.

Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Or maybe it sounds true. Or maybe, just
maybe, someone came up with the same sort of thing during the late
nineteenth century (Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and directed it towards a societal group that they
thought was destroying the world?

In the case of the late nineteenth century, these beliefs were outright
lies that were fabricated with the intention of creating ill-will and
hatred towards their “enemy”. It therefore gives you an idea of how
these people – even those today – think.
This one by reader One Salient Oversight

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Mike sends a response to rdan on off-label drugs

It is evident that this will lead to less pressure on the Drug Companies
to get their drugs approved by the FDA. I would suggest that we consider
letting the market help. i.e.

1) If a drug is prescribed off-label, then the patient be permitted
to return it to the drug store for a full refund, no questions asked. —
Obviously many people might be helped, and others would not bother to try to
get a refund, but it would encourage the Drug Company to test the drug to be
able to sell it without the possibility of having ineffective drugs being

2) If a drug is being prescribed off-label, with the cooperation of
the Drug Company, then the patient can go to court and have a presumption
that the drug is the cause of any reasonable harm to the patient. Obviously
one would want a judge to eliminate unreasonable cases, but if it is
reasonable that the off-label use of the drug might have caused the damage,
then the encouraged off-label use would lead to an assumption of guilt until
proven by the preponderance of evidence otherwise.

Obviously the details of these can be adjusted to make them more
reasonable, but their purpose is to let the Drug Company have some reasons
for testing their drugs and for not encouraging their off-label use unless
they feel they are safe and effective.

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Off label drug pushers

FDA doesn’t just approve drugs, it approves drugs for specific uses. However, doctors can prescribe drugs for unapproved, or “off-label,” uses.

Under a law that expired in 2006, pharmaceutical reps were legally able to distribute journal articles touting the benefits of off-label uses. But, according to the Associated Press, FDA maintained some regulatory oversight: “Under the expired law, companies had to submit reprints of articles to the FDA before sending them to doctors. That way, the articles’ accuracy could be reviewed.”

If FDA chooses to finalize this policy, which it published today as “proposed guidance,” drug companies would be able to use journal articles to market off-label uses willy-nilly. The AP article continues, “Under the new proposal, drug companies don’t have to submit articles.”

Off-label use of drugs is big business. According to The Wall Street Journal, “[FDA] is stepping into a high-stakes business issue, because off-label uses of prescription drugs are a mainstay of the industry — an estimated 21% of drug use overall, according to a 2006 analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.”

According to Merrill Goozner at the GoozNews blog, the pharmaceutical lobby pushed for FDA to go forward with the policy which will be a boon for the industry:

So what was in today’s proposed guidance? It pretty much gives industry everything it was looking for. It would allow drug salespersons to drop off article reprints as long as they came from a peer-reviewed journal that had a conflict-of-interest disclosure policy. Articles from industry-funded supplements would not be allowed…

Note what isn’t in the policy: It doesn’t say that the studies of unapproved uses must be from randomized controlled clinical trials, which is the gold standard of medical research.

Rep. Henry Waxman(D-CA) caught wind of this policy last November and asked FDA to refrain from going forward.

We probably will get exactly what we wish for, and then get blamed for the result. I call it sneered at..”Suckers!!”

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Thoughts on the War on Terror as a Label

I have a vague recollection of GW saying something to the effect that if we change our behavior or lifestyle, the terrorists have won. (Anyone have the quote?) As I was waiting, barefoot, for my carry-on, my flip-flops (the easiest thing to travel in these days), my laptop and my cell-phone to clear the X-ray machine, I looked over at the octogenarian lady standing next to me waiting for her belongings. Then I reflected on the fact that GW has not flown commercially since at least the year 2000.

Calling it a “War on Terror” means one day, when we win, we’ll be able to go back to the days when we weren’t fighting. Put another way… one day we’ll be able to go back to the days before our carry-on items were scrutinized this carefully. That day will never come, even if every last islamofascist is rounded up and GW has Osama’s testicles in a jar of formaldehyde sitting on the mantle. Calling it a “War on Terror” is just silly.

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NY Times Calculator Mislabels Salaries as Wealth

Dean Baker has a lot of praise for this calculator:

The NYT has a very nice feature in today’s paper, a calculator that allows you to see how wages have grown over the last four decades. You can make comparisons for a wide variety of demographic characteristics, occupations, and industries. You can even plus your own info in and see how you’re doing compared to your peers. This is nice, it’s giving people real information. That’s what newspapers are supposed to do.

I agree but I have one nitpick with the title which talks about “wealth” whereas the calculator graphs real salaries. Their instructions continue the error in terminology by calling this salary calculator a “wealth calculator”. Could someone let the New York Times know that stocks and flows are different concepts.

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Pork Barrel Spending Labeled “Fiscal Responsibility”

An AP story carried by CNN shows that the White House was paid many visits by “Republican activists Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed” over the past 6 years. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino had an odd way of excusing the visits by Mr. Norquist:

He is one of a number of individuals who worked to advance fiscal responsibility, which is one of the key aspects of the president’s agenda

I seriously doubt Mr. Norquist asked Karl Rove if the pork barrel spending for his clients could be reduced.

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Immiseration Revisited: The four phases of working time

Is there a neo-classical theory of immiseration?
Below is the marvelous Chapman hours of labor diagram (follow the link for a more detailed explanation). It looks complicated but it really only contains four curves representing, roughly, long-term and short-term productivity, income [correction: actually income minus the value of leisure foregone] and fatigue. But there is more to it than Chapman realized or that I have previously noticed.

The context for this diagram is William Stanley Jevons’s discussion of work effort in his Theory of Political Economy:

A few hours’ work per day may be considered agreeable rather than otherwise; but so soon as the overflowing energy of the body is drained off, it becomes irksome to remain at work. As exhaustion approaches, continued effort becomes more and more intolerable.

The “L” curve in Chapman’s diagram echoes the lower curve in Jevons’s figure VIII, presented to illustrate the “painfulness of labour in proportion to produce”:

In this diagram the height of points above the line ox denotes pleasure, and depth below it pain. At the moment of commencing labour it is usually more irksome than when the mind and body are well bent to the work. Thus, at first, the pain is measured by oa. At b there is neither pain nor pleasure. Between b and c an excess of pleasure is represented as due to the exertion itself. But after c the energy begins to be rapidly exhausted, and the resulting pain is shown by the downward tendency of the line cd.

Chapman was primarily concerned with the length of the day optimal for output, which would be measured on the X axis of his diagram by the distance Ob. The optimal working day from the workers’ perspective, however, would be On and would terminate at the point where the marginal income from another time unit of work would just equal the marginal pain of working.

But the intervals from n to i and from i to b add another dimension to the diagram that has been overlooked. From n to i the worker gives up proportionally more in work effort than he or she receives in extra income. Finally, during the interval from i to b, workers endure additional pain in exchange for a decrease in total income. Beyond b, the incomes of both workers and employers are reduced.

The four phases of working time can be labeled cooperation, exploitation, immiseration and ruin. The incentive for employers is to progress inexorably toward the last phase unless regulated by legislation or collective bargaining. The following animation illustrates the contrast between the workers’ gains (green) and losses from lengthening of the working day and the employers’ gains (blue) and loses.

The conflict between labor and capital over the length of the working day can also be illustrated less kinetically by the following close-up of the X axis from Chapman’s diagram. The green arrows indicate income gains, the red arrows income losses or pain cost:

The bottom line, showing the social aggregate, indicates that the income gain for capital at the optimal point b for output is essentially a transfer of income from labor, which also has to invest additional work effort to accomplish that transfer. Up to the output optimum point there is a small net surplus of income that is, however, dwarfed by the quantity of work effort pain cost required to generate it. This does not even qualify for the Kaldor-Hicks compensation criteria. From capital’s perspective, however, the small net return and larger transfer appears to be all simply gain from expanded output — growth is good! (Just don’t look under the hood).

Chapman gave no indication of being aware of the immiseration implications of his analysis. John Hicks gave even clearer indication that he was not aware of the immiseration implications of Chapman’s analysis. Hicks observed that “it had never entered the heads of most employers that it was at all conceivable that hours could be shortened and output maintained” but asserted that trade unions “will not usually need to exert any considerable pressure in order to bring about a reduction” in circumstances where the working day exceeded the output optimum. As if workers should be content to be ground down into wretched poverty provided they didn’t drag their employer down with them! The output optimum is not a good place on the X axis for workers to be.

Only the Marxist economist, Maurice Dobb, appears to have noticed the importance of the relationship between wages and “the worker’s expenditure of energy and his ‘wear and tear.’”

What was implied in the economists’ retort to the advocates of the so-called Work-Fund leads to the apparent paradox that the more the workers allow themselves to be exploited, the more their aggregate earnings will increase (at least in the long run), even if the result is for the earnings of the propertied class to increase still faster. And on this base is erected a doctrine of social harmony between the classes. But it does not follow that the workers will prefer to be exploited to a maximum degree, or that attempts to limit this exploitation are based on fallacious reasoning.

There is no scale on the Chapman diagram and this turns out to be a useful feature. Different occupations, technologies, individuals and wage levels generate a variety of scales. One could conceive of aggregating these scales either in an overall average or clustered in quintile or decile groups. The latter procedure would be valuable in exploring whether a substantial number of workers were being pushed into conditions of immiseration even though the overall average was still safely in the exploitation range.

It is worth remarking that based on the relative length of the segments in Chapman’s diagram, the optimal length of the day for workers would be less that 72 percent of the optimal output day. For example, if the optimal length of the workweek for output was 48 hours, the optimal week for workers would be 34.4 hours. Of course Chapman’s diagram is not based on empirical measurement but Chapman had investigated in depth the extensive statistical and experimental data available at the time he was formulating his theory, so, while his proportions cannot be assumed to be precise they probably represent an informed impression — a ballpark estimate — of general relationships.

In conclusion, yes, there is a neo-classical immiseration theory. The economists who propounded it apparently were unaware that it was such a theory. By extension, that immiseration theory is a crisis theory. There is no built-in mechanism of negative feedback from prices that militates against the passage from the immiseration phase to the ruin phase. Hicks assumed that a “very moderate degree of rationality on the part of employers will thus lead them to reduce hours to the output optimum as soon as Trade Unionism has to be reckoned with at all seriously [emphasis added].” But by the time exploitation has progressed to the immiseration phase, trade unionism doesn’t have to be “reckoned with at all seriously” by employers. The trade unions would already have been defeated somewhere between point n and point b on the Chapman diagram’s X axis.

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Emails from the “Voter Fraud” Crypt

Why, oh why is there not an effective opposition party in the U.S. Congress?

The last time “voter fraud” was as high on the GOP’s agenda as it now is on Trump’s, it led to the politically-motivated firing of nine U.S. Attorneys, which caused a scandal that resulted in the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

During the Congressional investigation into the firings, it was revealed that millions of emails were missing, some of which were germane to the issue at hand. They had been stored on a private RNC email server.

Here is some relevant detail from a Newsweek story published September 12, 2016:

The supposedly lost emails also prevented Congress from fully investigating, in 2007, the politically motivated firing of nine U.S. attorneys. When the Democrat-led Senate Judiciary Committee subpoenaed related emails, Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, said many were inaccessible or lost on a nongovernmental private server run by the RNC and called The White House, meanwhile, officially refused to comply with the congressional subpoena.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the president’s actions “Nixonian stonewalling” and at one point took to the floor in exasperation and shouted, “They say they have not been preserved. I don’t believe that!” His House counterpart, Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), said Bush’s assertion of executive privilege was unprecedented and displayed “an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government.”

In court in May 2008, administration lawyers contended that the White House had lost three months’ worth of email backups from the initial days of the Iraq War. Bush aides thus evaded a court-ordered deadline to describe the contents of digital backup believed to contain emails deleted in 2003 between March—when the U.S. invaded Iraq—and September. They also refused to give the NSA nonprofit any emails relating to the Iraq War, despite the PRA, blaming a system upgrade that had deleted up to 5 million emails. The plaintiffs eventually contended that the Bush administration knew about the problem in 2005 but did nothing to fix it.

Eventually, the Bush White House admitted it had lost 22 million emails, not 5 million. Then, in December 2009—well into Barack Obama’s administration—the White House said it found 22 million emails, dated between 2003 and 2005, that it claimed had been mislabeled. That cache was given to the National Archives, and it and other plaintiffs agreed, on December 14, 2009, to settle their lawsuit. But the emails have not yet been made available to the public.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was operating on a different track but having no more luck. In a bipartisan vote in 2008, the committee found White House aides Karl Rove and Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas in the investigation of the fired U.S. attorneys. The penalties for contempt are fines and possible jail time, but no punishment was ever handed down because a D.C. federal appeals court stayed the Senate’s ruling in October 2008, while the White House appealed. Rove’s lawyer claimed Rove did not “intentionally delete” any emails but was only conducting “the type of routine deletions people make to keep their inboxes orderly,” according to the Associated Press.

By then, Obama was weeks away from winning the election, so the Bush administration basically ran out the clock. And neither the Obama administration nor the Senate committee pursued the matter.

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How do Americans get rich? (and stay rich?)

Originally published at Evonomics and reposted at Naked Capitalism, Angry Bear Steve Roth continues his conversation on riches, income, debt, and expectations. Steve Roth serves as Publisher of Evonomics.

By Steve Roth

How do Americans get rich?  (and stay rich?)

It’s the American dream. A third of Americans think they’ll be rich someday. More than half of 18–29 year olds think they will be.

Less than 5% actually make it.* And many of those do it the old-fashioned way: they inherit it. About 60% of U.S. household wealth is inherited. Between a quarter and a third of Forbes 400 billionaires got rich that way. It may not be the most common way to get there, but it’s widespread, and it’s surely the easiest way.

That aspiration to wealth is deeply understandable. Getting high income from a good job is all well and good, but because wealth begets more wealth — people are compensated simply for owning things — wealth is, potentially, forever. It persists, and spreads through families and dynasties. Wealth can, and often does, endure for generations.

So it’s worth asking: how do Americans accumulate wealth? And how does that vary across income and wealth classes? How do the bottom 50% accumulate wealth, for instance, compared to the top 1%?

The Distributional National Accounts

A huge aid to answering that question arrived last month. Gabriel Zucman, Emmanuel Saez, and Thomas Piketty (PSZ) released one of the most important pieces of economic research in the last century. Their Distributional National Accounts (DINAs) reveal the distribution of national income to different income classes, wealth classes, age groups, and genders (and potentially different races, etc. etc.). This has been unavailable in the national accounts, and as a result it’s absent in most macroeconomic empirical work.

Here’s one poster exhibit:

Collect the whole set.

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