Decisive moment! Decisive moment?

Commentary No. 497, May 15, 2019

We all want to know what the future portends for us about anything important. We all tend to believe the future will be what the present is. If the polls show we shall make a certain decision, deciding if something looks good now, it will continue to look good as the future goes on. At the same time, it is a well-tested phenomenon we can’t remember decisions more than six months ago. What is a result of combining these two seeming facts? Let me try to explain how a combination works.

An example would be a decision most people are most concerned with – the election of the United States President in 2020. While we think the present is a favorable outlook for Donald Trump, it seems to me that it is more complicated.

Every day and every morning new elements enter the picture and by a small amount the present prediction is less valid. This continues over time. Think of it as a slow train pulling away from the accuracy of our prediction. By the time six months have passed, accuracy is reduced to almost zero.

So, it might be most sensible to start where we were six months ago and emphasize new things! And say that this predicts what will happen next. We are, therefore, urged to learn what it was six months ago. How can we do that?

There is first our memory of it, and second public evidence of it taken six months ago. If things favored Trump six months ago, he will be reelected. If things were less good six months ago, he will not be reelected.

How good are our assessments of whatever we felt six months ago? Six months for whom? Voting in the state of Oregon is completed and nothing that has happened since then can affect those votes.

There are other states with different rules about when a vote is taken in their state or at a local level. So, to know what people felt six months ago we have to combine an estimate of six months ago for different groups of people. This is, of course, a very difficult mathematical exercise and it is not likely people will do it well.

In addition, in the United States the vote is taken in a body called the Electoral College. This Electoral College is not in the computer but something that actually meets. When it meets, most electors have made promises how they would vote. They are not legally required to keep those promises. Some have violated them in the past and others may do so in the future. Now we realize what a hard time it is to predict today the vote in the Electoral College tomorrow. Some will then say the whole thing is not worth trying to see what will happen.

How do they then predict? Some do it by guesswork; some give up entirely. How can we know what will happen? Is there any way? It seems doubtful.

We may then enter a world totally cynical in which everyone does what they feel like doing.

So, decisive moment! But also decisive moment? There may not be a decisive moment.

The Fire of Notre Dame Cathedral: How Tragic?

Commentary No. 496, May 1, 2019

On April 15, 2019, a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame was a tragedy for people all across the world, and particularly those in France. Everyone who ever saw it usually loved it. So this was a tragedy for perhaps half the world, if not many more. The question remains: was it undoable? The answer is absolutely not.

There is absolutely no reason Notre Dame cannot be restored exactly as it was, or as we wish to improve it. It is only a question of political will and money.

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Ontological Dilemmas

Commentary No. 495, April 15, 2019

Epistemology, especially statistics, is the study of how we measure things and how we know if our measurements are correct. Ontology is the study of whether the things we are measuring actually do exist.

A very long time ago, beginning in the sixteenth century, analysts were primarily concerned with methodological problems. But in the last century, more and more analysts turned their concerns to ontological problems.

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Who is Winning? It All Depends When

Commentary No. 494, April 1, 2019

For a worldwide struggle to capture the surplus-value there is always a choice.

One can give priority to short-term gains. Or one can give priority to middle-turn gains. One cannot do both.

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Unacceptable compromises: A clarification

Commentary No. 493, March 15, 2019

Two of my regular readers sent me indications that I was not clear in my explanation of what I was talking about when I spoke of unacceptable compromises.

I shall attempt to answer their queries and objections. Let me start by reproducing what they sent me.

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Can Unacceptable Compromises Prevail?

Commentary No. 492, March 1, 2019

Every compromise has losers.

Every compromise has dissenters.

Every compromise includes a betrayal. Yet no political struggle can end without a compromise. Compromises do not last forever and often only briefly. Yet there exists no alternative to making them in the short run.

In the short run, we are all seeking to minimize the pain. Minimizing the pain requires a compromise so that assistance to those who need it can be given. But the compromise does not solve any problem in the long run. So, in the middle run (more than three years) we have to pursue a solution without compromise. It is all a matter of timing – the very short run versus the middle run.

If we don’t compromise in the short run, we hurt the people who are weakest. If we do compromise in the middle run, we hurt the people who are weakest. It’s an impossible game which we all have to play.

How to Fight a Class Struggle

Commentary No. 491, February 15, 2019

Class struggles are eternal, but how they are fought depends on the ongoing state of the world-system in which they are located.

World-systems have three temporalities. They come into existence and this needs to be explained. Secondly, they are stabilized structures and operate according to the rules on which they are founded. And thirdly, the rules by which they maintain their relative stability cease to work effectively and they enter a structural crisis.

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The Big Five: Clinging to power

Commentary No. 490, February 1, 2019

When the United Nations proclaimed its Charter in 1945, it included therein a special privilege for five member states – the power of the veto in its Security Council. Why these five states? There was a different reason for each of the five. No matter. The Big Five – the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the U.S.S.R. (now Russia), and China – still have this privilege today, and are unlikely to lose it in the foreseeable future.

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