Turn and Burn


Next week marks the launching of our first book-length Phenomenal World publication: Market Economy, Market Society: Interviews and Essays on the Decline of European Social Democracy. The book examines the fracturing of the social democratic consensus through the eyes of policymakers, trade union leaders, and party politicians who lived through, and in some cases enacted, the liberal market reforms of the 1980s and 90s.

A 1997 essay by Eric Hobsbawm reflects on the social, political, and cultural importance of historical inquiry in shaping collective understandings of the present and future.

From the piece:

“To be a member of any human community is to situate oneself with regard to one’s (its) past, if only by rejecting it. The past is therefore a permanent dimension of the human consciousness, an inevitable component of the institutions, values and other patterns of human society. The problem for historians is to analyze the nature of this ‘sense of the past’ in society and to trace its changes and transformations.

Paradoxically, the past remains the most useful analytical tool for coping with constant change. Some sort of historicism, that is the extrapolation of past tendencies into the future, has been the most convenient and popular method of prediction. At all events the shape of the future is discerned by searching the process of past development for clues, so that the more we expect innovation, the more history becomes essential to discover what it will be like. However, at this point a contradiction arises: the capacity to discern general tendencies does not imply the capacity to forecast their precise outcome in complex and in many respects unknown circumstances of the future. History ceases to be of use at the very moment when we need it most. The value of historical enquiry into ‘what actually happened’ for the solution of this or that specific problem of present and future is undoubted. Yet the nature of this often arbitrary process of dipping into the past for assistance in forecasting the future by itself does not replace the construction of adequate social models, with or without historical enquiry. It merely reflects and perhaps in some instances palliates their present inadequacy.”

Link to the book containing the paper.

  • “Students of history have imagined that they were dealing with phenomena like ocean tides, whose regularities they could deduce from sufficient knowledge of celestial motion, when they were actually confronting phenomena like great floods, equally coherent occurrences from a causal perspective, but enormously variable in structure, sequences, and consequences.” Charles Tilly on explaining political processes. Link.
  • “By the late twentieth century, it can be argued that concepts of identity at every level are crucially derived from highly fashioned and coherent narratives about the past.” A 1995 paper by Olivia Harris examines the relationship between historical narrative and political agency. Link.
  • A 1980 reflection from Braudel: “The one thing that fascinates me in the history profession is the extent to which it can explain the life of men as it is being woven before our very eyes, with its acquiescences and reticences, its refusals, complicities, or surrenders when confronted with change or tradition.” Link.


Pensions and Public Schools

Assistant Professor in History at Boston College MICHAEL GLASS studies suburban inequality, examining processes of racial segregation and resource distribution. In a co-authored paper, Glass looks at the links between state pension management and suburban school growth in New York State.

From the abstract:

“Between 1940 and 1965, state-level officials changed the relationship between two pillars of the postwar social contract: secure retirement and modern public schools. In the early twentieth century, state pension managers, following an investment regime we call ‘fiscal mutualism,’ funneled the savings of government workers into government securities. Through direct participation in municipal bond markets, pension officials lowered the borrowing costs for local governments. Yet by the 1960s, pensions had completely abandoned this investment regime. We document this transformation through a close examination of New York State’s pension fund. Throughout the 1950s, the comptrollers who managed the New York State Employee Retirement System (NYSERS), the nation’s largest state pension, underwrote the boom in suburban school construction by purchasing the municipal bonds of local school districts. However, in response to changes in national political economy, along with shifts in the ideology guiding pension stewardship, New York Comptroller Arthur Levitt Sr. sought to deregulate the pension’s investment powers. As school budgets, and the property taxes supporting them, soared to repay the interest costs, tax revolts became a permanent response to the fiscal volatility. These transformations, we argue, stemmed from postwar liberalism’s dependence on financial markets to deliver retirement security, public education, and other social benefits.”

Link to the paper, link to Glass’ profile.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org.

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  • In an adapted chapter from PW’s forthcoming publication, co-published with the Boston Review, Adam Przeworski explores how social democratic parties became trapped by “a language that does not extend beyond a program for the next election, a language that does not guide the society toward long-term goals.” Link.
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  • Collective Actions in Tech, in partnership with JFI, is launching a paid fellowship for tech workers, researchers, journalists and content creators who want to tell the stories of collective action in tech in the Global South. Learn more here.
  • JFI is hiring a full-time Operations Associate to join our operations team in supporting our diverse projects and general nonprofit administration. See more details here.
  • “Central bank purchases reflect the new macro-financial role that government bonds play in this collateral-intensive financial system organised around securities, derivatives, and wholesale money markets.” Daniela Gabor on 2020’s “Revolution Without Revolutionaries.” Link.
  • In an earlier report for the same series, Joscha Wullweber assesses global financial stability: “The financial system was, indeed, already in crisis mode when the pandemic hit.” Link.
  • “Scientists have had to reckon with the limitations of models as tools—and with the realization that pandemics can push the utility of models to the breaking point.” In Quanta, Jordana Cepelowicz on the year of modeling and Covid-19. Link h/t Francis
  • Ju Li on the development of e-commerce and its employment effects in China. Link.
  • In VoxEU, So Kubota, Koichiro Onishi, Yuta Toyama on Covid stimulus payments in Japan. Link.
  • Barbara Samaluk on the challenges of non-standard job schemes and labor market entry for welfare professionals in Slovenia. Link.
  • “Compared to past decades, refugees today (i) travel longer distances, (ii) are less likely to seek protection in a neighboring country, (iii) are less geographically concentrated, and (iv) are more likely to reside in a high-income OECD country.” By Xavier Devictor, Quy-Toan Do and Andrei A. Levchenko. Link.
  • “This paper presents two wage-series for unskilled English women workers 1260–1850, one based on daily wages and one on the daily remuneration implied in annual contracts. The series are compared with each other and with evidence for men, informing several debates. For long periods of time, in fact from the Black Death until the late 1500s, women’s daily or weekly wages from casual or short-term work exceeded the implicit equivalent available from annual service. In the era of industrialization, we find this relationship reversed with the daily wages implicit in longer-term contracts outstripping falling or flattening casual day rates for women workers.” By Jane Humphries and Jacob Weisdorf. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org

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