The least desirable way to handle this situation is to play ‘let’s make a deal’ with the rental agency once you’re at your destination ‘ you’d be at a total disadvantage and there may be no acceptably safe cars in the lot anyway. If your machine doesn’t have a 12V DC input jack, then you can still use a battery, but you’ll have to use an inverter. Later on, people feel great when they see their pictures

April 25, 2014 § Leave a comment


Piketty wants to provide a theory relevant to growth, which requires physical capital as its input. And yet he deploys an empirical measure that is unrelated to productive physical capital and whose dollar value depends, in part, on the return on capital. Where does the rate of return come from? Piketty never says. He merely asserts that the return on capital has usually averaged a certain value, say 5 percent on land in the nineteenth century, and higher in the twentieth.

The basic neoclassical theory holds that the rate of return on capital depends on its (marginal) productivity. In that case, we must be thinking of physical capital—and this (again) appears to be Piketty’s view. But the effort to build a theory of physical capital with a technological rate-of-return collapsed long ago, under a withering challenge from critics based in Cambridge, England in the 1950s and 1960s, notably Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa, and Luigi Pasinetti.

Piketty devotes just three pages to the “Cambridge-Cambridge” controversies, but they are important because they are wildly misleading. He writes:

Controversy continued… between economists based primarily in Cambridge, Massachusetts (including [Robert] Solow and [Paul] Samuelson) . . . and economists working in Cambridge, England . . . who (not without a certain confusion at times) saw in Solow’s model a claim that growth is always perfectly balanced, thus negating the importance Keynes had attributed to short-term fluctuations. It was not until the 1970s that Solow’s so-called neoclassical growth model definitively carried the day.

But the argument of the critics was not about Keynes, or fluctuations. It was about the concept of physical capital and whether profit can be derived from a production function. In desperate summary, the case was three-fold. First: one cannot add up the values of capital objects to get a common quantity without a prior rate of interest, which (since it is prior) must come from the financial and not the physical world. Second, if the actual interest rate is a financial variable, varying for financial reasons, the physical interpretation of a dollar-valued capital stock is meaningless. Third, a more subtle point: as the rate of interest falls, there is no systematic tendency to adopt a more “capital-intensive” technology, as the neoclassical model supposed.

In short, the Cambridge critique made meaningless the claim that richer countries got that way by using “more” capital. In fact, richer countries often use less apparent capital; they have a larger share of services in their output and of labor in their exports—the “Leontief paradox.” Instead, these countries became rich—as Pasinetti later argued—by learning, by improving technique, by installing infrastructure, with education, and—as I have argued—by implementing thoroughgoing regulation and social insurance. None of this has any necessary relation to Solow’s physical concept of capital, and still less to a measure of the capitalization of wealth in financial markets.

There is no reason to think that financial capitalization bears any close relationship to economic development. Most of the Asian countries, including Korea, Japan, and China, did very well for decades without financialization; so did continental Europe in the postwar years, and for that matter so did the United States before 1970…

To summarize so far, Thomas Piketty’s book about capital is neither about capital in the sense used by Marx nor about the physical capital that serves as a factor of production in the neoclassical model of economic growth. It is a book mainly about the valuation placed on tangible and financial assets, the distribution of those assets through time, and the inheritance of wealth from one generation to the next.

Why is this interesting? Adam Smith wrote the definitive one-sentence treatment: “Wealth, as Mr. Hobbes says, is power.” Private financial valuation measures power, including political power, even if the holder plays no active economic role. Absentee landlords and the Koch brothers have power of this type. Piketty calls it “patrimonial capitalism”—in other words, not the real thing.

Thanks to the French Revolution, registry of wealth and inheritance has been good in Piketty’s homeland for a long time. This allows Piketty to show how the simple determinants of the concentration of wealth are the rate of return on assets and the rates of economic and population growth. If the rate of return exceeds the growth rate, then the rich and the elderly gain in relation to everyone else. Meanwhile, inheritances depend on the extent to which the elderly accumulate—which is greater the longer they live—and on the rate at which they die. These two forces yield a flow of inheritances that Piketty estimates to be about 15 percent of annual income presently in France—astonishingly high for a factor that gets no attention at all in newspapers or textbooks.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Mie Prefecture Fisheries Research Institute


I cannot hear what you say for the thunder that you are

November 28, 2013 § Leave a comment


Dear Mr. Maxwell,

I am dreadfully upset by the following coincidence. The Olympia Press (headquartered in Paris) are bringing out LOLITA, a novel of mine, on which I have worked for four years and which is scheduled to appear by September the 1st. Before I sold them the book, it had been seen by Viking, New Directions, Straus and Doubleday, and not only by their readers but also by the friends of their readers. There is a story entitled LOLITA in the last issue of The New Yorker by Dorothy Parker.

Please do find out if the term “coincidence” I have used above needs some qualifications; and in any case would you consider my contributing a note in regard to both Lolitas to your Department of Corrections and Amplification? Or any other appeal, complaint, yelp or distress?  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Delaney Allen

if I knew anything about [thing] I’d be way better at it than [person who does thing]

October 7, 2013 § Leave a comment


In his best work, everything was charged and nothing was forced: even the smallest gestures and the most marginal characters contributed to the unfolding of the drama.  read more


I am almost frightened out of my seven senses

June 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


I went out during the day and recorded sounds that I thought might be useful and evocative. It turned out that most of the sounds – even the church organ in Southwark Cathedral – seemed to converge around a common rhythm. It’s a bit too good to be true – that every large city should have its own rhythm, but here it is.

Byrne’s claim that London has a fundamental rhythm of 122.86 bpm could be generously described as a poetic truth. The most common rhythmical sound outdoors in the city is footsteps, the individual rate of which is usually between 80 and 100 steps a minute…
There is an atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris.
This must be true for some parts of Paris, but it also seems likely that there will be others which don’t sound very different to their equivalents in Lyon or Toulouse. If people’s voices are excluded, they may not be easily distinguished by ear from many cities throughout the industrialised world. Economic development tends to reduce the variety of public sound environments at the same time as it multiplies what you can choose to hear in private.
Let’s set aside the issue of comparisons and consider if it’s worth asking what the characteristic sound profile of a single city might be, a bit like how astronomers have tried to discover the average colour of the universe. This is the sort of question which journalists like to ask – so, what exactly is the sound of London? – and one which Byrne astutely foresaw. Unfortunately, it’s also ill-posed. First, any measure along a single dimension, such as London’s average sound frequency being x-number of hertz, doesn’t contain much information of interest. What understanding could such a fact lead to? Second, differences in what’s sampled and how will produce wildly different results. You can’t record everything.  read more

One can approve vulgarity in theory as a comment on vulgarity, but in practice all vulgarity is inseparable

May 30, 2013 § 2 Comments


One of the great proponents of moving walkways was Jesse Wilford Reno (1861-1947). In 1891 he applied for the first US patent for what we would recognize as a relatively modern moving walkway (granted 1892). However this early concept had to wait while Reno concerned himself with a slightly different idea.

Reno’s first machine was installed in 1896 as a mere pleasure ride at Coney Island, New York, at the Old Iron Pier. He termed it his ‘inclined elevator’ and it was inclined at 20 degrees and had a rise of only seven feet and a speed of about 75 ft/minute. In fact it was provided to act as a means of demonstrating its capabilities to potential customers, such as the trustees of the Brooklyn Bridge and subway and elevated railway operators. This ploy seems to have worked as machines were deployed at each end of the bridge (I think in 1896). Strange to say that it was only after this that the idea of constructing a horizontal machine was suggested, initially as a means of crossing the bridge, but this was not pursued.

So far as I have been able to establish, his 7 ft demonstrator only ran for two weeks but had the peculiar property that passengers were required to sit on it, as though it were some kind of inverted ski lift. It was therefore a passenger conveyor, but not a walkway. I am yet to discover more about this, especially as it is reputed to have gone to Brooklyn Bridge to impress the managers there (I believe for two months but struggle to confirm this). There is an image, produced below, of a sitting-down type conveyor at Coney Island, probably made by Reno, but it is obviously much more than 7 ft high and has a permanent look about it. Perhaps it was installed soon after as a result of a successful trial. It is apparent that this design departed very considerably from his 1892 patent and does not seem to have been repeated. Though Coney island is frequently cited as ‘the first escalator’, the evidence tends to suggest it was very different in conception and not part of the mainstream development of passenger conveyors.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Richard Perkins

the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s profiles of five types of book thieves: the kleptomaniac who cannot keep himself from stealing; the thief who steals for profit; the thief who steals in anger; the casual thief; and the thief who steals for his own personal use

May 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Guy Abeille, age 62, a former senior Budget Ministry official and “the inventor of the concept, endlessly repeated by all governments whether of the right or the left, that the public deficit should not exceed 3% of the national wealth,” told the newspaper –

We came up with the 3% figure in less than an hour. It was a back of an envelope calculation, without any theoretical reflection. Mitterrand needed an easy rule that he could deploy in his discussions with ministers who kept coming into his office to demand money. […] We needed something simple. 3%? It was a good number that had stood the test of time, somewhat reminiscent of the Trinity.  read more

FILM: Yolanda Domínguez

Hilarious Foreign Uncle Becomes Viral Star For Expressing Deep Emotion About Death Caused by Family Members VIDEO

April 25, 2013 § Leave a comment


Beck’s Paris Metro map is clearly related to his schematic map for the London Underground, all its angles at either 90 or 45 degrees, any unnecessary details erased. The Seine river’s meander through the city is stylised into a symmetrical sweep across the map’s bottom left quarter, its bracket-like shape broken only by the Île de la Cité. The smaller Île Saint-Louis has been erased off the map: unlike its larger neighbour, it doesn’t have a metro stop.

Capturing the Paris Metro in a schematic map proved even more challenging than reducing the London Tube to the now-famous diagram: the Parisian stations were more concentrated in the centre, and its lines were much more interwoven, leading to a higher number of interchanges – and to some very curvaceous lines. Beck picked out a few metrolines to form what seems to be the eternally recurring, basic matrix of a metro map: an axial line (the Ligne 1, running east-west), and a circular line (by juxtaposing Ligne 2 and Ligne 6 on the map to form a rounded rectangle). He added in the other lines, straightening them out as much as possible.

Beck’s initial proposal was rejected by the Paris Metro operator RATP – but the same fate had befallen his first suggestions for the London Underground. Undaunted, the draughtsman returned to his drawing board. But his second, improved, full-colour map, presented in 1951, was also given le cold shoulder. Some speculate that Beck’s oversimplification of Parisian geography was simply too unpalatable for local tastes. It could also be argued that the map looked too ‘British’ for Paris. The map fell into oblivion, and was only published for the first time in Mark Ovenden’s 2008 book on the Paris Metro.

But in the end, Beck won – albeit posthumously.  read more

ART: Martin Creed

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