Posts Tagged ‘writing’


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The extended quiescence of this 'blog has largely been an artefact of my limiting of various activities as I bore-down on critiquing Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities, a work of heterodox political economy by Piero Sraffa. The task has been thoroughly unpleasant, because there is so very much wrong with his work and because he writes in an obscure manner. At the same time, I have been dealing with depression intensified by personal circumstances. Had I allowed myself to step away from the project more than I did, I might never have finished it.

I have not, indeed, finished it; but, on Wednesday morning, I completed a first draft of the article. That draft is now in the hands of some of the other economists whom I know. (Naturally, I have since found things that I want to change, though none of these represent a major issue.) So I think that I will be back to writing more entries here.

One of the economists who has graciously said that he would take a look at the article (not-withstanding that it is monstrous in size!) asked me what motivated my writing of it.

Over many years, I have repeatedly been annoyed by encounters with those who draw upon PoCbMoC. More recently, I have been concerned by increased popular support for administrating economies (which support happens to be egalitarian or quasi-egalitarian); and this book is part of the infrastructure of the experts who defend such administration.

Further, at the time that I finally began actually working on this article, I felt stalled-out in my paper on the axiomata of qualitative probability. (That paper was and is a rat's nest, in which the basic propositions are not currently each perfectly orthogonal to all others.) In a sense, then, this article on Sraffa's book was intended as a break, though I quickly discovered that the task was going to be far more onerous than I had presumed.

Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities is the central text of neo-Ricardian economics, and a core text of post-Keynesian economics; it is also an important source for a variant form of Marxism that would abandon the labor theory of value. If I can get my article published in a reputable journal, that publication will eventually be the death of neo-Ricardianism and of the aforementioned variant of Marxism; I don't know enough about post-Keynesianism to know how well they might do without PoCbMoC. Some of my criticisms are relatively minor, but some of them strike at the heart of the work.

(It took rather a long time to develop my article, but reading it offers the impression a nearly continuous rain of blows, some dreadful.)

I say eventually because I wouldn't expect the present admirers to acknowledge how hard they'd been hit, but I'd expect a virtual end to the winning of converts. I don't know that I can find a journal to publish the article because

  • it is quite long;
  • the mainstream of economists are unfamiliar with PoCbMoC so that
    • editors and reviewers may think it insufficiently significant, and
    • those reviewers most likely to feel sufficiently competent to examine my article are admirers of Sraffa.

I intend never again to pore over a work, even as short as PoCbMoC, when it is discernibly crack-pot. As I told a friend, I have been doing my time on the cross here; let someone else go after other such thinkers. I am capable of original work of significance, and that is how I intend to spend my remaining time qua economist.

This 'blog was begun as I left LiveJournal, appalled by its evolving policies under its second and then third owners. One might reasonably conceptualize this 'blog as a continuation of that which I had at LJ, and some of the entries of this 'blog are recyclings of entries from the earlier 'blog.

None-the-less, this 'blog has become very different from its predecessor. LiveJournal is a social-networking site; part of the reason that it has withered is that its users migrated to more successful social-networking sites. My present 'blog doesn't work that way. I have recurring readers, but there's nothing much like the Friends feed of LJ or of Facebook. There is no centralized connector of interests (as on LJ). I have regular readers, but they are likely to use an RSS aggregator (such as Flipboard) and less likely to comment (especially if they are using such an aggregator). I get far more irregular visitors, who are here by way of Google (or of some other search service), grabbing some information, and not so much as visiting any page here other than their entry pages.

So it doesn't feel appropriate to offer mundanities of the sort that I would relate to a neighbor or to a friend on the telephone. My public entries tend to be things that I imagine strangers would appreciate reading. The restricted entries (basically accessible to friends who followed me as I migrated from LJ) are almost entirely personal; but a reader is required to make a special effort to access them, so they are not about ordinary events; they are usually very personal.

With entries to this 'blog thus typically requiring more thought, there are generally fewer of them, and the 'blog becomes dormant when I cannot — or believe that I should not — give thought to those entries.

The State of My Paper on Sraffa

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Piero Sraffa's Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities has 96 sections and four appendices. I've critiqued most of the first 85 sections, though I have for now skipped a few that draw-out conclusions from methods that I have shown to be fatally flawed. Along the way, I've also dealt with three of the appendices, the remaining one of which is bibliographical.

The final 11 sections that I've not discussed nor yet carefully read are concerned with what economists call land (not only space but resources such as ore) and with the significance of switching in methods of production. That last part is the most noted contribution from Sraffa, and widely considered to have merit across various schools of thought, though it has also been asserted that the contribution is not as novel as some have claimed. I withhold judgment until I go through it carefully.

The material over which I have so far pored is of no marginal value. I have come to loathe each resumption of my effort. But Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities is the core text of the neo-Ricardians, a central text of the Post-Keynesians (who have a significant academic and political foot-print in the UK), and the point of departure for an important variant of Marxism. So I should steel myself and complete the task.

After I get a first draft of the actual analysis done, before I write the other parts of the paper, I will begin making copies of the version in-progress available to those who can read these entries. And, after I have a more fully reälized working version, I might unrestrict my entries about this project, though that publicizing might wait upon my finding a journal that agrees to publish it.

A Side-Paper on Sraffa

Friday, 7 August 2015

I've not been in the proper frame-of-mind to work upon the articles that previously occupied me, so I've instead been working on a paper that I'd been meaning to write for years. Its working title is The Begged Questions in Mr. Sraffa's Theory of Price.

Piero Sraffa is notable for a number of things. He was a formidable critic of Marshallian economic theory. He identified serious problems in the formulation of von Hayek's original presentation of capital theory, at a pivotal juncture during the struggle between the Austrian School and Lord Keynes. Sraffa later identified a significant error in the capital theory of the mainstream of American Keynesianism. He was a behind-the-scenes influence upon the thinking of various economists such as Joan Robinson, and of Wittgenstein. He edited the critical edition of the works of David Ricardo.

He also wrote a short book, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities; Prelude to a Critique of Economic Theory, that attempted to restore the position of pre-marginalist, anti-subjectivist thinking on political economy. He and his close followers are known as neo-Ricardian because their work has so much of the flavor of Ricardo and of his followers.

Neo-Ricardian thinking heavily influences the so-called Post-Keynesians (one of many different flavors of economic thought that draw upon some interpretation of Keynes's work) and many Marxists look to Sraffa's work as a serious challenge or as a source for revision of Marxian economic theory.

Sraffa's book has been out-of-print in the United Kingdom and in the United States for many years; the most recent printing of which I know was in 1983. However, copies command a significant premium, and new, expensive books about his book or otherwise about Sraffa's economic theories come out fairly often. So, though the size of Sraffa's following doesn't seem to be much growing, it also doesn't seem to be much shrinking.

But, well, his theory of price determination doesn't simply go off the rails; it is never on them. For any decent economist, it would be easy to identify where Sraffa is begging essential questions, or otherwise making unacknowledged assumptions. In particular, he doesn't eliminate the subjective element from his theory of price; instead, he merely hides it, while making presumptions about it (and about production functions) that are bizarre.

Yet I don't think that I've encountered an article that has exposed these problems. The set of decent economists and the set of those who have published articles about Production of Commodities seem not to have intersected.

(I have encountered an article written by a general-equilibrium theorist, who writes like a general-equilibrium theorist. I'll eventually want to return to it to see whether, using the obscure symbolism of his people, he has in fact pointed to any of the essential problems of Sraffa's theory.)

Fifth Rejection and Sixth Attempt

Sunday, 30 November 2014

My short article was rejected by one journal yester-day, and submitted to another in the wee hours of this morning. And, yes, that's just how the previous entry began.

This time, an editor at the rejecting journal informed me that an unnamed associate editor felt that the article didn't fit the purposes of the journal. I got no further critique from them than that. (It should be understood that, as many submissions are made, critiquing every one would be very time-consuming.)

With respect to my paper on indecision, I had some fear that I would run out of good journals to which I might submit it. With respect to this short article, I have a fear that I might run out of any journal to which I might submit it. It just falls in an area where the audience seems small, however important I might think these foundational issues.

Fourth Rejection and Fifth Attempt

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

My short article was rejected by one journal yester-day, and submitted to another in the wee hours of this morning.

At the journal that rejected it, the article was approved by one of the two reviewers, but felt to be unsuited to the readership of the journal by the other reviewer and by the associate editor. Additionally, the second reviewer and the associate editor suggested that it be made a more widely ranging discussion of the history of subjectivist thought, which suggestion shows some lack of appreciation that foundational issues are of more than historical interest, and that the axiomata invoked by the subjectivists are typically also invoked by logicists. (I say appreciation rather than understanding, because the reviewer briefly noted that perhaps my concern was with the logic as such.)

I made three tweaks to the article. One was to make the point that axiomata such as de Finetti's are still the subject of active discussion. Another was to deal with the fact that secondary criticism arose from the editor's and the objecting reviewer's not knowing what weak would mean in reference to an ordering relation. The third was simply to move a parenthetical remark to its own (still parenthetical) paragraph.

The journal that now has it tries to provide its first review within three months.

Third Rejection and Fourth Attempt

Friday, 29 August 2014

As expected, my brief paper was quickly rejected by the third journal to which I sent it. The rejection came mid-day on 19 July; the editor said that it didn't fit the general readership of the journal. He suggested sending it to a journal focussed on Bayesian theory, or to a specific journal of the very same association as that of the journal that he edits. I decided to try the latter.

On the one hand, I don't see my paper as of interest only to those whom I would call Bayesian. The principle in question concerns qualitative probability, whether in the development of a subjectivist theory or of a logicist theory, and issues of Bayes' Theorem only arise if one proceeds to develop a quantitative theory. On the other hand, submitting to that other journal of the same association was something that I could do relatively quickly.

I postponed an up-date here because I thought that I'd report both rejections together if indeed another came quickly. But, so far, my paper remains officially under review at that fourth journal.

The paper is so brief — and really so simple — that someone with an expertise in its area could decide upon it minutes. But reviewing it isn't just a matter of cleverness; one must be familiar with the literature to feel assured that its point is novel. A reviewer without that familiarity would surely want to check the papers in the bibliography, and possibly to seek other work.

Additionally, a friend discovered that, if he returned papers as quickly as he could properly review them, then editors began seeking to get him to review many more papers. Quite reasonably, he slowed the pace of at which he returned his reviews.

Second Rejection and Third Attempt

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The second journal to which I submitted my brief article quickly rejected it (on 11 July) as being unsuited to their readership, and suggested that it may be that your work would be better directed to a journal specialising on statistical theory, or foundations/philosophy. (The journal to which I submitted arguably is one of statistical theory; but it leans heavily towards review rather than towards innovation.)

As 13 July neared its end, I submitted to yet another journal. This time, I'm pretty sure that I'm playing a long-shot, but a rejection should come very quickly if it comes, the paper would get relative many readers if were published there, and people in and around my field would be impressed; so I think that the gamble is a good one.

Second Attempt

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

In the wee hours of 8 July, I rewrote my brief article on one of the proposed axiomata of probability, and sent it to a journal of statistical theory.

The principal reason for doing some rewriting was to add a paragraph reporting an interesting point made by one of my former professors. (I wish that I'd seen that point on my own, but I didn't, so I've duly creditted him.) Additionally, I tightened-up the abstract.

In the absence of being given a reason why my note was rejected by the previous journal, my conjecture is that it was considered to present what would be viewed as a technicality from the perspective imputed to the readership. So I'm turning to a journal with a different sort of readership.

A Note of Rejection

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The first journal to which I submitted my brief article on the foundations of probability has rejected it, without providing a reason. This sort of rejection is the most common, and I got one of that sort from the first journal to which I submitted my paper on incomplete preferences.

I will find another journal to which to submit the newer paper, but I have little sense of the the rankings of the sorts of journals in which this paper might be published, and I don't know at the moment to which journal I will next send it.

Just Pining

Sunday, 5 August 2012

On Sunday, 27 May, I received a pair of e.mail messages announcing formal acceptance for publication of my paper on indecision, and I ceased being braced for rejection. From 15 June, Elsevier had a version for sale on-line (first the uncorrected proof, then the corrected proof, now the version found in the journal). The issue itself (J Math Econ v48 #4) was made available on-line on 3 August. (I assume that the print copies will be received by subscribers soon.)

Reader may recall that, not very long ago, I was reading A Budget of Paradoxes by Augustus de Morgan, and that when de Morgan used the term paradox he did not use in in the sense of an apparent truth which seems to fly in the face of reason, but in the older sense of a tenet opposed to received opinion. De Morgan was especially concerned with cases of heterodoxy to which no credibility would be ascribed by the established mainstream.

Some paradoxes would later move from heterodoxy to orthodoxy, as when the Earth came to be viewed as closely approximated by a sphere, and with no particular claim to being the center of the universe. But most paradoxes are unreasonable, and have little chance of ever becoming orthodoxy.

I began reading de Morgan's Budget largely because I have at least a passing interest in cranky ideas. But reading it at the time that I did was not conducive to my mental health.

Under ideal circumstances, one would not use a weight of opinion — whether the opinion were popular or that of experts — to approximate most sorts of truth. But circumstances are seldom ideal, and social norms are often less than optimal whatever the circumstances. When confronted with work that is heterodox about foundational matters, the vast majority of people judge work to be crackpot if it is not treated with respect by some ostensibly relevant population.

In cases where respect is used as the measure of authority, there can be a problem of whose respect is itself taken to have some authority; often a layering obtains. The topology of that layering can be conceptualized in at least three ways, but the point is that the layers run from those considered to have little authority beyond that to declare who has more authority, to those who are considered to actually do the most respected research, with respected popularizers usually in one of the layers in-between. In such structures, absurdities can obtain, such as presumptions that popularizers have themselves done important research, or that the more famous authorities are the better authorities.

As I was reading de Morgan's book, my paper was waiting for a response from the seventh journal to which it had been offered. The first rejection had been preëmptory; no reason was given for it, though there was some assurance that this need not be taken as indicating that the paper were incompetent or unimportant. The next three rejections (2nd, 3rd, 4th) were less worrisome, as they seemed to be about the paper being too specialized, and two of them made a point of suggesting what the editor or reviewer thought to be more suitable journals. But then came the awful experience of my paper being held by Theory and Decision for more than a year-and-a half, with editor Mohammed Abdellaoui refusing to communicate with me about what the Hell were happening. And this was followed by a perverse rejection at the next journal from a reviewer with a conflict of interest. Six rejections[1] might not seem like a lot, but there really aren't that many academically respected journals which might have published my paper (especially as I vowed never again to submit anything to a Springer journal); I was running-out of possibilities.

I didn't produce my work with my reputation in mind, and I wouldn't see damage to my reputation as the worst consequence of my work being rejected; but de Morgan's book drew my attention to the grim fact that my work, which is heterodox and foundational, was in danger of being classified as crackpot, and I along with it.

Crackpots, finding their work dismissed, often vent about the injustice of that rejection. That venting is taken by some as confirmation that the crackpots are crackpots. It's not; it's a natural reäction to a rejection that is perceived to be unjust, whether the perception is correct or not. The psychological effect can be profoundly injurious; crackpots may collapse or snap, but so may people who were perfectly reasonable in their heterodoxy. (Society will be inclined to see a collapse or break as confirmation that the person were a crackpot, until and unless the ostensible authorities reverse themselves, at which point the person may be seen as a martyr.)

As things went from bad to worse for my paper, I dealt with how I felt by compartmentalization and dissociation. When the paper was first given conditional acceptance, my reäction was not one of happiness nor of relief; rather, with some greater prospect that the paper would be published, the structure of compartmentalization came largely undone, and I felt traumatized.

Meanwhile, some other things in my life were going or just-plain went wrong, at least one of which I'll note in some later entry. In any case, the recent quietude of this 'blog hasn't been because I'd lost interest in it, but because properly to continue the 'blog this entry was needed, and I've not been in a good frame-of-mind to write it.

[1] Actually five rejections joined with the behavior of Abdellaoui, which was something far worse than a rejection.