Thursday, October 08, 2015

N-1 a literal diseased state?

biologydirect |  The variety of parasites that can affect host behavior suggests that the phenomena of parasitic host control might be more common in nature than currently established and could have been overlooked in humans. This warrants a detailed search for parasitic organisms that affect human behavior. One approach to search for “invisible” microbes that influence behavior is by comparing the microbiomes of control subjects and humans that consistently engage in irrational ritualistic behavioral activities, which contribute to the spreading of parasites and infections.

The modern anthropological view on religion is that it is a cultural meme that replicates through social communication [44]. While the meme itself may influence behavior, religious icons are known to be vectors of infectious diseases [45]. Most major religions have rituals that are likely to promote the transmission of infections. This includes circumcision [46], Christian common communion chalice [46], the Hindu ‘side-roll’[46] and Islamic ritual ablution [46] as well as the Hajj congregation in Mecca [47]. For example, the latter is specifically associated with outbreaks of meningococcal disease [48].

Also many religions are centered on sacred relics that are worshiped and frequently kissed by multiple people and thereby can act as vessels for microbial transmission. Crosses, icons, Bible covers are kissed in some denominations of the Christian tradition, the Black Stone (the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba) is a relic that is kissed by millions of Muslims, kissing of the Wailing Wall is a religious tradition for the Jewish. It is unlikely, but possible that the rejection of condom use, vaccination and use of antibiotics present in some religious cultures, as well as the sacred status of specific domestic animals (possible definitive hosts to the parasites) may also be related to microbial host control. Finally, it has been noted that many parasites eliminate their hosts reproductive potential as they channel all available resources to maximize their own reproductive success [18]. Coincidentally celibacy is commonplace for holy individuals that are most devoted to their faith such as monks or nuns.

Thus it is possible that various religious practices could represent biomemes: manifestations of a symbiosis between informational memes [54] and biological organisms. This concept is somewhat similar to the fictional midichlorians of the Jedi Order from the popular series “Star Wars”[55].

Two particular parts of the human body seem to be most promising for the search of  behavior-altering parasites. First of all, the human gut microbiome may be of interest in light of the microbiome-gut-brain axis concept. Another promising area to search for behavioraltering parasites is the human brain. Several organisms that can bypass the mammalian blood–brain barrier and produce a latent infection without obvious symptoms are currently known. In mice with latent toxoplasmosis, Toxoplasma gondii cysts can be found in various regions of the brain, especially in the olfactory bulb, the entorhinal, somatosensory, motor and orbital, frontal association and visual cortices, the hippocampus and the amygdala [56]. In humans the brain also appears to be an important site for Toxoplasma gondii cyst formation and the parasite is capable of infecting a variety of brain cells, including astrocytes and neurons [57-59].

behavioral transplants: tards are full of _______ - but there may be a simple solution...,

nature |  Twelve Canadian scientists accomplished something we've only heard about in science fiction: They transplanted a set of behaviors from one set of animals to another set of animals! And you'll never guess what part of these animals they physically transplanted to achieve this feat: It was not their brains; It was not their hearts; It was their gut-contents! We have all heard the phrase "you are what you eat", but scientists have discovered the real truth: You are what you poop. 

Science is rapidly discovering that the intestinal tract is a vast ecosystem of microbes and the proportion of each microbe species present doesn't just influence digestion, but also brain development, cognition and even behavior. This connection has been termed the microbiota-gut-brain axis and is a new and quickly growing area of research. Different strains of lab mice are known to have different personalities: Some are more anxious and skittish, while others are more easy-going and friendly. When scientists looked at the microbes in their guts, they found that anxious mice and easy-going mice had different proportions of these microbial species. Different microbe species seem to have different effects on their hosts. While some gut microbes can cause illness, mice that have been raised so that they have never had any gut microbes have all kinds of problems, including symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and autism, suggesting that some microbe species are important for healthy brain functioning.

Stephen Collins of McMaster University and his research collaborators tested the effects of gut microbes on behavior by giving BALB/c mice either 7 days of oral antibiotics or water. BALB/c mice are a very timid and anxious mouse strain. Normally, BALB/c mice that are placed in a box that is half dark and half bright will prefer to spend more time hiding in the dark side. BALB/c mice placed on an elevated platform will hesitate and take a long time to step down to explore. After a week of antibiotic treatment, mice given the antibiotic had a different proportion of microbe species in their guts, spent more time in the bright side of the light-dark box and were quick to step down from the elevated platform to explore! The scientists also found brain changes in these mice that correspond to decreased anxiety. But when the mice were tested a second time two weeks after treatment, all effects were gone, likely because the gut microbes were able to repopulate and rebalance their ecosystems.

the business model consists in fleecing credulous geeks with more money than sense...,

discovermagazine |  Full disclosure, I didn’t pay $89 for my sample analysis kit. But if I had, I would have been disappointed. And if I had paid $399 for the five-site kit, I would have been even more so. The amount of readily available information provided little enlightenment about what my internal lurkers meant about me.

To be fair, this is not totally uBiome’s fault, and it’s something they disclose explicitly in the terms of service. We don’t know enough about the microbiome to say, “Too many of X and too little of Y mean Z,” or, “Firmicutes make you fat.” I knew that, and uBiome made very clear that no human should use their service to diagnose themselves or predict their future, and that knowledge of the microbiome is nascent and evolving. But I did expect the comparison tools to have more flexibility.

I could check out how my bacteria’s phyla stood up to those of vegans, paleos, vegetarians, heavy drinkers, weight losers, weight gainers, those on antibiotics, men, and women. But not women on antibiotics. Or vegetarian women who are in their 30s. And I couldn’t compare a level beneath phylum.

My microbiome doesn’t look like vegans’, paleos’, vegetarians’, lushes’, or any of the other groups’, which makes sense given that I’m an individual and don’t strictly fit within those categories. 

However, it also means that my data didn’t provide me much insight. I could download my own raw data and manipulate it, but then I was looking at it in a vacuum, without a set to compare to, so the analysis amounts mostly to, “Hey, look. I have this many of those bacteria. Neat?”

Beyond that, I could see a list of all my bacteria and what percentage of the population they were; which were “most enriched” compared to the aggregate; and which were “most depleted” compared to the aggregate. For some, I could click on their name — digging down from phylum to genus — and learn more about their lives and the effect they might have on mine.

However, many — more than half, if you go all the way to genus — don’t have entries. That’s because science hasn’t figured them out yet. And science will almost certainly figure them out in the future… By which time, however, my microbiome will probably have changed.

Bio Business Model
uBiome bills itself primarily as a citizen science project—your guts in your hands!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

open thread - do my "smart" frog friends feel the west coast pot getting hot yet?

As population increases, while resources (and the associated wealth) decreases, and more people struggle to simply survive, social "niceties" are bound to diminish. In northern California and southern Oregon, there are more and more "transients"/ homeless people... with no investment in what is clearly falling apart, yet interestingly, with an inflated Californian sense of entitlement.

Overseers in every municipality are being put to the test to maintain civility. City councils are passing severe ordinances which prohibit camping, sitting on sidewalks, curbs or the ground, no loitering, no panhandling etc. The Mount Shasta situation has been exasperated given two years with no snow, so what was once a very inhospitable winter climate just a few years ago, now affords year round camping and hanging outdoors.
The mass shootings are a symptom of "overshoot". You humans have gone over the plateau and are on the down edge of collapse.  Meanwhile, down in So-Cal

At Myra Marquez’s house, she checks the gauge on her 2500 gallon water tank before she touches a faucet. The tank gets filled every Monday.

Rationing 2000 gallons over five or six days is tough.

"It’s hard,” she said.

It takes $38 million dollars from the state’s Emergency Drought Relief Program to pay for the town’s drinking water and fill residents’ water tanks. (1700 residents)

Isn't anyone else surprised or annoyed that a household in Central California can't make it on 2500 gallons of H2O each week?

Isn't anyone else incredulous that California is paying $38,000,000 to truck water to just 1700 folks?

That's over $22,000 for each person!
Who's organizing that water drive, the Pentagon? That's $88,000 for a family of four. California could drill a $30,000 well for each family and save a bundle.

I hear there are plenty of idle drilling rigs in Texas... But, is there any water left?

Who was it that said, "Are humans smarter than yeast?"

Collapse is taking a whole lot longer than I thought it would - which is good - because in the intervening decade, my children have achieved young adulthood and waxed very strong - while I've been afforded an opportunity to carefully observe and study what you do under such self-inflicted, mass, stress conditions.

they not getting mine!!!

zerohedge |  Just as was evidenced after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, after Columbine and Tucson in 2011, and following the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, US gun sales have soared following the mass-shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, which killed 10 people and injured seven others. As The FT reports, gun sales this year could surpass the record set in 2013, when gun purchases surged after the December 2012 Sandy Hook murders.
Business has been brisk for Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in North Carolina, since the Oregon community college shooting last week that left 10 people dead, including the 26-year-old suspect.

Mr Hyatt saw an even bigger surge in customers after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 26 people dead, including 20 children, before the gunman killed himself.


However, the calls for tighter gun laws lead to an increase in weapons sales. “Once the public hears the president on the news say we need more gun controls, it tends to drive sales,” said Mr Hyatt, who owns one of the largest gun retailers in the US. “People think, if I don’t get a gun now, it might be difficult to get one in the future. The store is crowded.”

“We don’t want our business to be based on tragedy but we have to deal with what we have no control over,” Mr Hyatt said. “And after these shootings and then the calls for tougher gun laws, we see a buying rush.”
In the first nine months of this year, 15.6m of the background checks needed to purchase guns from federally licensed sellers have been processed, compared with the 15.5m applications in the same period in 2013, according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Strong sales this year have also boosted the earnings for the two of the largest gun manufacturers in the US. Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co have seen their stocks rise this year by over 88% and 67% respectively.

more whiskey, bacon, and whyte wymyn for me...,

yahoo |  Kitchens that are shared between office workers may soon be banned from storing pork products like sausage rolls over fears that they are “offensive”.

New guidelines proposed by interfaith group CoExist House say that employers should consider worker’s religions before allowing ham sandwiches placed in the fridge alongside other products. The group also suggests that alcohol should not be served at corporate events in case it upsets members of certain faiths.

Andy Dinham, professor of faith and public policy at Goldsmiths, University of London, is writing up the guidelines that will be put forward to employers this week.

Defending the controversial report, he told The Sunday Times: “It would be good etiquette to avoid heating up foods that might be prohibited for people of other faiths.

"The microwaves example is a good one.

“We also say, ‘Don’t put kosher or halal and other… special foods next to another [food] or, God forbid, on the same plate.”

He also said that religious people should be entitled to wear religious clothing and symbols as required.

He added: "We have lost the ability to talk about religious belief because of a century of secular assumptions, and most religious belief is either highly visible and we don’t recognise it, or it’s invisible and we miss it entirely.”

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

cali overseers been putting in work, but with 40 million of y'all, it's just a drop in the bucket...,

theatlantic |  The ACLU of Southern California has been working to understand how many people have been killed by law enforcement in America’s most populous state. What they found is alarming. Over a six-year period that ended in 2014, California’s Department of Justice recorded 610 instances of law enforcement committing homicide “in the process of arrest.”

That figure is far from perfect. It excludes some homicides in 2014 that are still being investigated. And it understates the actual number of people killed by police officers and sheriffs deputies in other ways. For example, after Dante Parker was mistaken for a criminal, stunned with a Taser at least 25 times, hog-tied face down, and denied medical care, California authorities classified his death as “accidental.” 

Still, the official number is 610 homicides attributed to law enforcement “in the process of arrest.”

Officially, 608 are classified as justified. Just two are officially considered unjustified. In one unjustified killing, there’s video of a policeman shooting Oscar Grant in the head as he lay face down in a BART station. In the other, there is extended video of police brutally beating a mentally ill man, Kelly Thomas, to death.

Officially speaking, only police officers who were being filmed killed people in unjustified ways. Whether law enforcement performs less professionally when cameras are rolling is unclear. But it seems more likely that the spread of digital-recording technology will reveal that unjust killings are more common than was previously thought.

40 million of you fractious humans foolishly packed into the desert make a fascinating study in peak resource collapse

downwithtyranny |  It may be a see-saw course, but it's riding an uphill train.

A bit ago I wrote, regarding climate and tipping points:
The concept of "tipping point" — a change beyond which there's no turning back — comes up a lot in climate discussions. An obvious tipping point involves polar ice. If the earth keeps warming — both in the atmosphere and in the ocean — at some point a full and permanent melt of Arctic and Antarctic ice is inevitable. Permanent ice first started forming in the Antarctic about 35 million years ago, thanks to global cooling which crossed a tipping point for ice formation. That's not very long ago. During the 200 million years before that, the earth was too warm for permanent ice to form, at least as far as we know.

We're now going the other direction, rewarming the earth, and permanent ice is increasingly disappearing, as you'd expect. At some point, permanent ice will be gone. At some point before that, its loss will be inevitable. Like the passengers in the car above, its end may not have come — yet — but there's no turning back....

I think the American Southwest is beyond a tipping point for available fresh water. I've written several times — for example, here — that California and the Southwest have passed "peak water," that the most water available to the region is what's available now. We can mitigate the severity of decline in supply (i.e., arrest the decline at a less-bad place by arresting its cause), and we can adapt to whatever consequences can't be mitigated.

But we can no longer go back to plentiful fresh water from the Colorado River watershed. That day is gone, and in fact, I suspect most in the region know it, even though it's not yet reflected in real estate prices.
Two of the three takeaways from the above paragraphs are these: "California and the Southwest have passed 'peak water'" and "most in the region know it." (The third takeaway from the above is discussed at the end of this piece.)

"For the first time in 120 years, winter average minimum temperature in the Sierra Nevada was above freezing"

My comment, that "most in the region know it," is anecdotal. What you're about to read below isn't. Hunter Cutting, writing at Huffington Post, notes (my emphasis):

With Californians crossing their fingers in hopes of a super El NiƱo to help end the state's historic drought, California's water agency just delivered some startling news: for the first time in 120 years of record keeping, the winter average minimum temperature in the Sierra Nevada was above freezing. And across the state, the last 12 months were the warmest on record. This explains why the Sierra Nevada snow pack that provides nearly 30% of the state's water stood at its lowest level in at least 500 years this last winter despite precipitation levels that, while low, still came in above recent record lows. The few winter storms of the past two years were warmer than average and tended to produce rain, not snow. And what snow fell melted away almost immediately.

Thresholds matter when it comes to climate change. A small increase in temperature can have a huge impact on natural systems and human infrastructure designed to cope with current weather patterns and extremes. Only a few inches of extra rain can top a levee protecting against flood. Only a degree of warming can be the difference between ice-up and navigable water, between snow pack and bare ground.

really bad karma to go from one unsustainable dustbowl to another...,

cbslocalsanfrancisco |  California’s four year drought has the whole state in a water crisis, but no area has been harder hit than the state’s Central Valley, where the wells have run dry.

In the small town of Okieville, in Tulare County, residents are struggling to stay in their homes.
At Myra Marquez’s house, she checks the gauge on her 2500 gallon water tank before she touches a faucet. The tank gets filled every Monday.

Rationing 2000 gallons over five or six days is tough.

“It’s hard,” she said.

It’s become the way of life in Okieville, which has about 90 residents. The town was named after the people who migrated there in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl.

Homes like Marquez’s are stacked with boxes of drinking water, and trucks haul in more to fill tanks, funded by the state’s Emergency Drought Relief Program.

“So without this (tank), you know, we can’t take a shower. We can’t wash clothes. We can’t do anything without it,” says Marquez.

In Tulare County, nearly 1700 household wells are dry. That’s more than all other counties combined.
Gilbert Arrendondo ran a pipe three blocks to tap into a neighbor’s well when his dried up last year.
“I’ve never seen this happen before because they would drill down and find a way to help us out,” said Arrendondo.

Monday, October 05, 2015

net of suicides, the hon.bro.preznit's telling a bald-faced whopper

WaPo |  “We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.”

is the 2nd amendment a gun-control amendment?

newyorker |  Stevens’s dissent should be read in full, but his conclusion in particular is clear and ringing:
The right the Court announces [in Heller] was not “enshrined” in the Second Amendment by the Framers; it is the product of today’s law-changing decision. . . . Until today, it has been understood that legislatures may regulate the civilian use and misuse of firearms so long as they do not interfere with the preservation of a well-regulated militia. The Court’s announcement of a new constitutional right to own and use firearms for private purposes upsets that settled understanding . . .
Justice Stevens and his colleagues were not saying, a mere seven years ago, that the gun-control legislation in dispute in Heller alone was constitutional within the confines of the Second Amendment. They were asserting that essentially every kind of legislation concerning guns in the hands of individuals was compatible with the Second Amendment—indeed, that regulating guns in individual hands was one of the purposes for which the amendment was offered.

So there is no need to amend the Constitution, or to alter the historical understanding of what the Second Amendment meant. No new reasoning or tortured rereading is needed to reconcile the Constitution with common sense. All that is necessary for sanity to rule again, on the question of guns, is to restore the amendment to its commonly understood meaning as it was articulated by this wise Republican judge a scant few years ago. And all you need for that is one saner and, in the true sense, conservative Supreme Court vote. One Presidential election could make that happen.

single mothers of delta males are causing these mass shootings...,

csmonitor |  But there’s one topic that’s not getting enough discussion, he and some others say: masculinity. “The elephant in the room with ... mass shootings is that almost all of them are being done by men,” Professor Kilmartin says. Male shooters often “project their difficulties onto other people.... In this case, it sounds like he was blaming Christians for his problems, but the masculinity piece is what is really missing in the discussions about the equation.”

Men are often raised to be stoic, to suppress emotions rather than understand them, and when they struggle, often the only emotion that they see as sufficiently masculine to express is anger, says Jon Davies, director of the McKenzie River Men's Center in Eugene, Ore., and a former psychologist at the University of Oregon. On top of that, he says, “it’s impossible to reach the ideal of what it means to be a man.”

Fortunately, the vast majority of men get enough support in their lives that those societal pressures don’t turn into mass violence.

While mass shooters are often seen as “outliers or oddballs ... we should actually think of them as conformists,” says Tristan Bridges, a sociologist at The College at Brockport, State University of New York, citing research on masculinity by expert Michael Kimmel. “They’re over-conforming to masculinity, because they perceive themselves, in some way or another, as emasculated.... It’s a terrible statement about American masculinity, to say that when you’re emasculated, one way to respond is to open fire.”

is this what america's gun crisis looks like?

What America's Gun Crisis Looks Like

Sunday, October 04, 2015

hyparchic folding and reality mechanics at the microcosmic scale

pbs |  Zeno’s paradox is solved, but the question of whether there is a smallest unit of length hasn’t gone away. Today, some physicists think that the existence of an absolute minimum length could help avoid another kind of logical nonsense; the infinities that arise when physicists make attempts at a quantum version of Einstein’s General Relativity, that is, a theory of “quantum gravity.” When physicists attempted to calculate probabilities in the new theory, the integrals just returned infinity, a result that couldn’t be more useless. In this case, the infinities were not mistakes but demonstrably a consequence of applying the rules of quantum theory to gravity. But by positing a smallest unit of length, just like Zeno did, theorists can reduce the infinities to manageable finite numbers. And one way to get a finite length is to chop up space and time into chunks, thereby making it discrete: Zeno would be pleased.

He would also be confused. While almost all approaches to quantum gravity bring in a minimal length one way or the other, not all approaches do so by means of “discretization”—that is, by “chunking” space and time. In some theories of quantum gravity, the minimal length emerges from a “resolution limit,” without the need of discreteness. Think of studying samples with a microscope, for example. Magnify too much, and you encounter a resolution-limit beyond which images remain blurry. And if you zoom into a digital photo, you eventually see single pixels: further zooming will not reveal any more detail. In both cases there is a limit to resolution, but only in the latter case is it due to discretization. 

In these examples the limits could be overcome with better imaging technology; they are not fundamental. But a resolution-limit due to quantum behavior of space-time would be fundamental. It could not be overcome with better technology. 

So, a resolution-limit seems necessary to avoid the problem with infinities in the development of quantum gravity. But does space-time remain smooth and continuous even on the shortest distance scales, or does it become coarse and grainy? Researchers cannot agree.

something outside the computational laws of physics, what could it be?

Saturday, October 03, 2015

homo evolutis

ted |  the future is looking back 200 years, because next week is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. And it's the 150th anniversary of the publication of "The Origin of Species." And Darwin, of course, argued that evolution is a natural state. It is a natural state in everything that is alive, including hominids. There have actually been 22 species of hominids that have been around, have evolved, have wandered in different places, have gone extinct. It is common for hominids to evolve. And that's the reason why, as you look at the hominid fossil record, erectus, and heidelbergensis, and floresiensis, and Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens, all overlap. The common state of affairs is to have overlapping versions of hominids, not one.
17:08 And as you think of the implications of that, here's a brief history of the universe. The universe was created 13.7 billion years ago, and then you created all the stars, and all the planets, and all the galaxies, and all the Milky Ways. And then you created Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, and then you got life about four billion years ago, and then you got hominids about 0.006 billion years ago, and then you got our version of hominids about 0.0015 billion years ago. Ta-dah! Maybe the reason for thr creation of the universe, and all the galaxies, and all the planets, and all the energy, and all the dark energy, and all the rest of stuff is to create what's in this room. Maybe not. That would be a mildly arrogant viewpoint. (Laughter) So, if that's not the purpose of the universe, then what's next?

18:07 I think what we're going to see is we're going to see a different species of hominid. I think we're going to move from a Homo sapiens into a Homo evolutis. And I think this isn't 1,000 years out. I think most of us are going to glance at it, and our grandchildren are going to begin to live it. And a Homo evolutis brings together these three trends into a hominid that takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of his species, her species and other species. And that, of course, would be the ultimate reboot.

Friday, October 02, 2015

why the negro/black digest had to go, and why black media is no mo....,

paecon |  Almost everyone recognizes that the media plays a crucial role in real democracies. One must examine the media to understand its role in how democracies work, including how it both enhances and detracts from how well any democratic society works. Amartya Sen recognizes this basic truth in the realms of capabilities, functionings, economics, and freedom. However, there is a tension between this recognition and the fact that Sen does not deeply develop the structural and institutional aspects of the role of the media and of democratic society.

In many of his works, Amartya Sen has correctly pointed out the links that exist between many kinds of freedom. One of the most important is the connection between democratic participation, political freedom, and the structure of the media. This is important because Sen argues that direct or representative democracy prevents catastrophic famine. (Sen 1999, 2009) He has also forcefully argued that political participation is important in its own right.

In order to reap the full benefits of democracy, Sen has argued that it is crucial have a free press that allows for the free flow of ideas. The free press helps a society decide which policies to pursue, since these discussions lead to the direct consideration of the goals that society thinks are worthwhile. These discussions also shape a society, because they inform citizens how it might be best to pursue goals that are already settled on. On this point, I agree with Sen.

However, there is a problem. Authors like Robert McChesney have argued that the ownership structure of media companies limits debate over economic and political policy. In the U.S., the primary concern seems to be the potential for corporate censorship, while in other parts of the world the main problem appears to be government censorship.

For the U.S., the argument goes like this. Media companies such as Disney, Fox, and Turner have direct economic interests. Large media companies are large corporations, and they sell advertising to other large corporations. Management of these large corporations has the responsibility to run the firms as profitably as they can. This is both a competitive requirement, and in some ways a legal one. One could argue that these firms have to please two masters, their shareholders and their audience. Management is often legally bound to serve shareholders first in case of a conflict between shareholder interests and other competing interests, such as those of employees or the audience. The corporate structure of these firms gives them an economic incentive to consider the financial consequences to the corporation of any particular story, regardless of its truth or potential social importance even if they maintain a strict separation between the news division and other divisions. Important aspects of any debate over social, political, and economic policy may be sidestepped because of corporate organization and the accompanying incentives. For example, Stromberg (2004) developed a model that describes the links between the mass media, political competition, and the resulting public policy. The emergence of the mass media “may introduce a bias in favor of groups that are valuable to advertisers, which might introduce a bias against the poor and the old.” (Stromberg 2004, 281)

works progress administration 2.0

paecon |  As the global crisis deepens and most industrialized and developing countries continue facing the risk of a prolonged labour market recession, it is leading to a catastrophic rise in unemployment and decline in real wages. Several countries have used neoclassical tools to mitigate this, primarily by moving legislation to have more flexible labour markets. The oft-repeated neoclassical logic has been that rigidities in labour markets are the barriers to recovery. The economic mechanism being that of lowering interest and wage rate to incentivize private investment; but the plans have not succeeded so far due to a lack of effective demand. On the other hand, public investment driven public work projects, by encouraging social participation, can be the way to stimulate economic recovery and expansion in employment. Along similar lines, the International Labor Organization (2009) reiterates that it is crucial to implement a coherent, job-oriented recovery strategy to address the basic needs of millions workers and their families, and emphasizes that employment and social protection must be at the centre of fiscal stimulus measures to protect the vulnerable groups and to reactivate investment for raising aggregate demand in the economy.

Public works become closely interlinked to social programs in contemporary democracies under the tension of various kinds of identity politics of exclusion and inclusion. It has the potential to alleviate these tensions and contrariwise, if badly conceived such programs can also heighten such tensions. This paper explores new frontiers of public works program from this viewpoint; and investigates how public work programs can be effective in combating labour market problems in economically and socially meaningful ways. The paper consists of six parts. The second part, after this introduction, reviews briefly the theoretical debate of market mechanism and unemployment related to classical and Keynesian paradigms regarding voluntary and involuntary unemployment and their policy implications. Section three draws a clear distinction between Keynesian demand management and new public works programs with emphasis on the distinction between demand side and supply side of the problem. Section four focuses on two issues which could be the basis for demarcating new employment policies, i.e. public works programs with and without skill components relating it to questions of benefits, externality and labour productivity. Section five discusses the principle of finance sharing of public works programs and its possible effects on inflation and private investment. In the last section, we conclude with a discussion of possible inclusion benefits of newly designed public works programs.

much inequality has been caused by politically-induced decisions

paecon |  This article analyses causes of high and persistent income inequality in the U.S.2 The analysis provides an explanation of the interconnected factors behind rising income inequality and the upward redistribution of national income from labour to capital. Followed by a series of reports about rising inequalities from various International Organisations (IO) (ILO 2011; UNCTAD 2012; OECD 2011b), the interest peaked after the publication of the English translation of Piketty’s (2014) Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The publication triggered a heated debate and brought widespread attention to the issue also from non-academic circles ever since. Not surprisingly, there is as much empirical evidence supporting as broad a variety of arguments as scholars working on the subject.

The interaction between exogenous and endogenous drivers of inequality is of particular interest. At first sight the global trend towards increasing inequality across developed and developing economies suggests that exogenous forces are the main driver of inequality. However, the impact of exogenous drivers can be counteracted or reinforced by national policies and are thus highly country-specific. For example the experience of most countries in Latin America which successfully reduced inequality while being subject to the same exogenous drivers as other countries, suggests that countries do have the means to reduce inequality. One major influence on inequality are the policies adopted (or not adopted) by the respective governments. Those vary considerably across regions and countries and alter the distribution of income significantly. It is argued that the political dimension as an endogenous driver of inequality has been neglected to the benefit of economic-based explanations. Some political scientists and sociologists have explored possible political explanations of increasing inequality (DiNardo, Fortin, and Lemieux 1995; Bartels 2010; DiPrete 2007; Rosenthal 2004), while economists have mostly neglected the role of the political.

How and to what extent the political dimension has contributed to increasing inequality has been under-researched. In order to analyse the political causes of increasing inequality the U.S. has been chosen as a case study. The research question reads as follows: Which factors are the main drivers of income inequality in the U.S.? The U.S. is of particular interest because the country has experienced a sharp increase of inequality relative to other countries. In addition to that the U.S. is one of the few countries where continuous and reliable data is available. This enables the analysis and comparison of the changing patterns of income inequality from the early 1950s onwards.

Partly, as it is argued, inequality has been caused by politically induced decisions. Certain policies, such as the decreased support for unions and tax cuts favouring the relatively well-off and corporations, have benefitted a small minority of the population at the expense of the majority and have thus contributed to widening income inequality. It is argued that this particular type of income inequality leads to representational inequality. High and persisting inequality in the U.S. has contributed to the strengthening of an economic elite who have a vested interest and the means to influence policies accordingly which increases and perpetuates inequality. This in turn reduces the purchasing power of the majority of the U.S. population (and hence aggregate demand). Thus, growth stalls also due to decreasing means of purchasing goods and services for the majority, or, contributes to economic and financial instability because the stagnating real wages are compensated by increasing accumulation of debts (Onaran and Galanis 2013, 88).