Fundamentalism, hiding as pluralism – continued

This continues from former weblog text.

In the past, Dutch society had the pillars, or segregation – though not in the extreme form of Apartheid – notably between Protestants and Catholics, but also for the socialist labour movement. People could live in their own community without the need to deal with other concepts or to develop a personal sense of tolerance and open-mindedness. Only the leaders of the pillars had to bargain with one-another, and this could be restricted to more practical issues.This pillarisation started to break down in the 1960s and 1970s with the increased welfare and freedom and the advent of television and “globalisation”. Yet, there are still relevant structures, e.g. in political party memberships and newsmedia subscriptions and such.

“In their search for the conditions of stable and democratic political rule most of these political scientists came to believe that political fragmentation of a society poses enormous obstacles to the realization of stability and democracy. In their view the cleavages or fragmentation, created by differing social, ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, had somehow to be overcome before there could be any prospect of a stable, democratic regime. About fifteen years ago this dominant belief among political scientists was challenged by the young Dutch Arend Lijphart. In 1968 he published his The Politics of Accommodation: Pluralism and Democracy in The Netherlands. Both within the country and elsewhere (thanks to the English edition) the work was highly acclaimed. Its success was due, in large part, to his description of Dutch politics as a paradoxical case of strong social segmentation or pillarization which was also marked by stability and democracy. That is, contrary to expectations, Holland is both stable and democratic despite its extensive social cleavages.” (M. van Schendelen around 1985).

While the pillars have mainly disappeared, Dutch culture hasn’t developed yet the personal sense of tolerance and open-mindedness that is required for this new situation. Dutch people are no orphans without self-confidence, but the metaphor might be helpful. If I am correct, in the USA, there is now strong antagonism between strands of Democrats and (Tea Party) Republicans, but there is also an underlying idea of mutual respect, and the attitude that opponents have the right to speak their minds, which also involves the obligation to listen to them. Perhaps this is the pioneering spirit that relies on individual strength. Though, in Hollywood comedies, it are the eternal misunderstandings that cause most laughs. Whatever that be, my suggestion is that in Holland, discussions break down far too soon. One is treated at best with a smile but no longer listened to, with the hint that you should go and look for your own pillar to talk to.

Thus, Dutch people might seem open minded but actually there is fundamentalism, fueled by uncertainty and the need to cling on to something.

A course “Economics from a pluralistic perspective” (newspeak)

The example in this weblog entry concerns what professors Irene van Staveren and Rob van Tulder call “pluralism“. This appears to be Orwellian newspeak for something that excludes key information that proper pluralism would include. It is “Free of charge to follow the course, € 50 to get a certificate”, though apparently you still must register with Coursera.

“Wondering why economists have not predicted serious financial crises? Shocked by economic assumptions of human behavior as self-centered and focusing only on what can be measured? Asking yourself if there are no sensible economic alternatives to free markets? Then you are at the right place to learn economics! Economic pluralism means that a plurality of theoretical and methodological viewpoints is regarded as valuable in itself and is simply the best way in which economics can make progress in understanding the world. This MOOC will illustrate economic pluralism not only in substance but also in form.” (EUR website)

This case concerns science and education, and involves Van Staveren’s and Van Tulder’s suppression of scientific ideas that they apparently don’t want to hear and don’t want to tell their students about. A scientist might specialise, and no longer be able to see beyond the blinders of this specialisation. In that case the scientist is no different than any other lay person, except for a general training in methodology and integrity of science. In this case, we are dealing with pluralism and generalisation, which are the opposite of specialisation. Hence the omission of key information is a much more serious issue.

My analysis in 1990 was that the Trias Politica fails, and that democracy requires an Economic Supreme Court. The economic crisis 2007+ confirms this analysis. Now, fellow economists may have other analyses, but it would be unscientific not to mention my analysis. Certainly when you target for pluralism, then also the proper analysis better be mentioned.

The former weblog entry already mentioned some important elements. We continue with the list.

Sustainable Finance Lab

Irene van Staveren is member of the so-called “Sustainable Finance Lab” (SFL) at Utrecht University. There is no good reason to combine finance and sustainability, but it might be good marketing for some bankers, and fashionable for the news media and students looking for something to study. Former RABO banker Herman Wijffels can call himself a professor now, and redirect criticism on his former banking activities to his new image on sustainability. In Dutch there is this 2013 warning by me.

I alerted Van Staveren about the malconduct by Klaas van Egmond at SFL. Van Egmond is an engineer in food technology, who has insufficient background in economics, but who doesn’t care about this, since engineers know better. He switched to the issue of the environment, and became head of the Dutch research institute on the environment. There he maltreated Roefie Hueting’s analysis on environmental sustainability. With the 2007+ economic crisis, he presented Dutch parliament with a model exercise that flies in the face of economics. These two issues are discussed here. Van Staveren didn’t respond to my criticism though she could at least have asked her SFL partners to reply to the criticism.

Holland also has environmental researchers like Rob van Dorland who do serious work on the environment. I am afraid that they get so-called “information” about economics from confused Klaas van Egmond. When I alerted Van Dorland about this issue, he rejected my warning as “spam”. Well, this is curious. The email exchange is here. This was part of the exchange above, that Van Staveren neglects to look into. It would have been better when she had corrected Van Egmond and informed Van Dorland that my information and warning had been correct.

At SFL there is also Dirk Bezemer, who disinforms the world about economists who warned about the 2007+ crisis.

At SFL there is also Mark Sanders, who advises the scientific department of the political party D66. I have asked Sanders to look in the D66 claims on improved democracy with district voting, referenda, and direct elections of prime minister and mayors. He refused to do so, and didn’t transfer my request to other people at that D66 department so that my new analysis would be looked into. Dutch readers can look here. A recent discussion on voting theory on this weblog is here.

Poor families paying for environmental costs

With global warming and deteriorating environment, the costs of the environment rise, and thus also costs for families, either directly or via taxes. For some persons this might be an argument not to include environmental costs into prices, since it would increase poverty.

“In the near future, an average three-person household will spend about €90 a month for electricity. That’s about twice as much as in 2000.
Two-thirds of the price increase is due to new government fees, surcharges and taxes. But despite those price hikes, government pensions and social welfare payments have not been adjusted. As a result, every new fee becomes a threat to low-income consumers.” (Der Spiegel 2013)

“Americans can’t afford higher electricity prices.” (Forbes 2013)

However, this situation is not fundamentally different from the past, when families already faced the question of survival and subsistence. Let me thus refer to my analysis on unemployment and poverty in DRGTPE. A short text is “Don’t tax sweat“. Dutch readers might look at this.

However, for some students of environmental economics this still might seem to be a new issue. I don’t know whether this is the case with Van Staveren and Van Tulder. They neglect to respond, and thus I really don’t know. Given that they neglect me, I presume that they also neglect my work, so that they might have above confusion.

Unemployment and poverty in general

In 1996 Ruigrok & Van Tulder “The logic of international restructuring” presented the important insight that globalisation actually was regionalisation. Fears about global competition were exaggerated. For Dutch readers: see this. This analysis fitted an earlier study by Andre Middelhoek at CPB in an evaluation of the Treaty of Rome, that there was mainly intra-industry specialisation.

In 1998 I gave Van Tulder a copy of the Dutch book “Werkloosheid en armoede, de oplossing die werkt (W&A) (pdf online). Van Tulder would look into it and get back to me. He hasn’t.

Date: Wed, 15 Apr 1998
To: Thomas Cool
From: Rob_van_Tulder
Subject: Re: Boekje over werkloosheid en armoede, i.v.m. uw analyse;  reactie?

Geachte mijnheer Cool,
ik heb uw boekje in goede orde ontvangen. Ik heb het slechts kunnen
doorbladeren. Momenteel is me weinig tijd gegeven voor enig substantieel
leeswerk. Dat zal in de komende weken z’n beslag kunnen nemen. Ik zal dan
graag contact met u nemen.
met vriendelijke groeten,
rob van tulder

Google Translate:

I have received your book in good order. I’ve been able to browse only. At present, I have little time for any substantial reading. That will be possible in the next few weeks. I will be happy to contact you.

Now I see that Van Tulder made a 2008 study about poverty for UNRISD, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. There is no reference to this book or my work.

“This paper addresses the way in which the largest firms in the world are coping with their involvement in the issue of poverty at home and abroad. It will be analysed in particular whether different ‘varieties of capitalism’ (VOC) or ‘business systems’ (Cf. e.g. Whitley, 1999; Jackson and Deeg, 2008) and different industries lead to different approaches towards poverty. The paper focuses on the one hundred largest firms in the world – as measured by 2006 turnover (see Annex). The sample contains sufficient representative firms from five industries and three different varieties of capitalism, to facilitate international comparison: (1) Anglo-Saxon (containing in particular US firms), (2) Continental European (in particular French and German firms) and (3) East Asian (in particular Chinese and Japanese firms). This paper is largely descriptive. It aims at identifying and documenting various strategies that can be and are employed by corporations to reduce poverty, it tries to come to a first assessment on the profoundness of these strategies, while also considering which variety of capitalism (and business leadership) seems to develop the most pro-active strategies towards poverty reduction.” (Van Tulder 2008, UNRISD)

The study targets businesses, but a key point for such a study would be:

  • Business leaders should plea with the government for a general policy to alleviate poverty, since it is the government that can resolve main issues, including the prisoners’ dilemma for the individual companies.
  • Resolution of poverty in OECD countries would be an important step, since it would set an example for countries with less democracy and resources.

Indeed Van Tulder in his chapter 2 presents a more general discussion how businesses are getting involved in the poverty issue, and W&A fits in this general framework, but isn’t referred to.

Why oh why did Van Tulder not get back to me about this book that I gave him ? It might be that he simply forgot ?

Wage moderation policy

Van Tulder (2000) (in Dutch) p178 & 180 refers to the Dutch wage moderation policy, but without the criticism given by Kleinknecht, see this earlier weblog entry.

The policy of wage moderation is also discussed in W&A as a key angle to understand unemployment and poverty in Holland and the OECD. See DRGTPE on exposed and sheltered sectors of the economy.

Reading DRGTPE

In 2010, I alerted Van Staveren about DRGTPE and the Dutch booklet DOK for a general public. Van Staveren indicated that she would look at it, so I sent her the relevant links. I haven’t received a reaction since. A 2014 discussion about the failure of the Trias Politica and need for Economic Supreme Courts is here.

From: “Staveren, I. van (Irene)”
To: ‘Thomas Cool / Thomas Colignatus’
Date: Tue, 16 Feb 2010
Subject: RE: Mijn analyse over werkloosheid en armoede

Geachte Thomas Cool,

Hartelijk dank voor uw mailtje en interesse in mijn werk. Als u me (een link naar) uw werk over de Trias Politica en uitbreiding met een Economische Hof zou willen toesturen, zal ik dat met belangstelling lezen.

Ik neem aan dat u bekend bent met mijn boek waarin ik betoog dat er drie economische waardendomeinen zijn en dat een economie pas goed functioneert als die drie (vrijheid/ruil; rechtvaardigheid/herverdeling; zorgzaamheid/de gift) in evenwicht zijn? (Voor de zekerheid: Irene van Staveren, The Values of Economics – an Aristotelian Perspective. Routledge, 2001.)

Hartelijke groeten, Irene van Staveren.

Google Translate:

Thank you for your email and interest in my work. If you would like to send me a link to your work on the Trias Politica and expansion with an Economic Court, I will read that with interest.

I assume you are familiar with my book that I argue that there are three economic value domains, and that an economy only works well if those three (freedom / exchange, justice / redistribution, care / gift) are balanced? (For sure: Irene van Staveren, The Values ​​of Economics – An Aristotelian Perspective. Routledge, 2001.)

PM. I am aware of the work by Arjo Klamer and Deirdre McCloskey on (virtue) ethics. Van Staveren wrote her thesis with Klamer and McCloskey was in the thesis commission. It had been my intention to look at Van Staveren’s thesis, but this hasn’t been urgent for me to do so yet.

Closing off

This discussion already takes two weblog entries. Let me close this off now, with a salute to George Orwell, apparently born in the same year as Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994).

Eric Blair / George Orwell (1903-1950)

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