April 24th, 2014
The Piketty Panic

By: Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: APRIL 24, 2014

“Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” the new book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, is a bona fide phenomenon. Other books on economics have been best sellers, but Mr. Piketty’s contribution is serious, discourse-changing scholarship in a way most best sellers aren’t. And conservatives are terrified. Thus James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in National Review that Mr. Piketty’s work must be refuted, because otherwise it “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.”

Well, good luck with that. The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Piketty’s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling — in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue.

I’ll come back to the name-calling in a moment. First, let’s talk about why “Capital” is having such an impact.

Mr. Piketty is hardly the first economist to point out that we are experiencing a sharp rise in inequality, or even to emphasize the contrast between slow income growth for most of the population and soaring incomes at the top. It’s true that Mr. Piketty and his colleagues have added a great deal of historical depth to our knowledge, demonstrating that we really are living in a new Gilded Age. But we’ve known that for a while.

No, what’s really new about “Capital” is the way it demolishes that most cherished of conservative myths, the insistence that we’re living in a meritocracy in which great wealth is earned and deserved.

For the past couple of decades, the conservative response to attempts to make soaring incomes at the top into a political issue has involved two lines of defense: first, denial that the rich are actually doing as well and the rest as badly as they are, but when denial fails, claims that those soaring incomes at the top are a justified reward for services rendered. Don’t call them the 1 percent, or the wealthy; call them “job creators.”

But how do you make that defense if the rich derive much of their income not from the work they do but from the assets they own? And what if great wealth comes increasingly not from enterprise but from inheritance?

What Mr. Piketty shows is that these are not idle questions. Western societies before World War I were indeed dominated by an oligarchy of inherited wealth — and his book makes a compelling case that we’re well on our way back toward that state.

So what’s a conservative, fearing that this diagnosis might be used to justify higher taxes on the wealthy, to do? He could try to refute Mr. Piketty in a substantive way, but, so far, I’ve seen no sign of that happening. Instead, as I said, it has been all about name-calling.

I guess this shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve been involved in debates over inequality for more than two decades, and have yet to see conservative “experts” manage to dispute the numbers without tripping over their own intellectual shoelaces. Why, it’s almost as if the facts are fundamentally not on their side. At the same time, red-baiting anyone who questions any aspect of free-market dogma has been standard right-wing operating procedure ever since the likes of William F. Buckley tried to block the teaching of Keynesian economics, not by showing that it was wrong, but by denouncing it as “collectivist.”

Still, it has been amazing to watch conservatives, one after another, denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist. Even Mr. Pethokoukis, who is more sophisticated than the rest, calls “Capital” a work of “soft Marxism,” which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist. (And maybe that’s how they see it: recently former Senator Rick Santorum denounced the term “middle class” as “Marxism talk,” because, you see, we don’t have classes in America.)

And The Wall Street Journal’s review, predictably, goes the whole distance, somehow segueing from Mr. Piketty’s call for progressive taxation as a way to limit the concentration of wealth — a remedy as American as apple pie, once advocated not just by leading economists but by mainstream politicians, up to and including Teddy Roosevelt — to the evils of Stalinism. Is that really the best The Journal can do? The answer, apparently, is yes.

Now, the fact that apologists for America’s oligarchs are evidently at a loss for coherent arguments doesn’t mean that they are on the run politically. Money still talks — indeed, thanks in part to the Roberts court, it talks louder than ever. Still, ideas matter too, shaping both how we talk about society and, eventually, what we do. And the Piketty panic shows that the right has run out of ideas.

April 24th, 2014
chris martin


May 3–Jul 27, 2014
Opening Friday, May 2, 6pm

Kow Berlin

Thanks to David Felts

April 24th, 2014
matt connors


April 25 through June 1, 2014


April 23rd, 2014
Capital Man

By Emily Eakin
The Chronicle Review
April 17, 2014

The French economist Thomas Piketty arrived in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for a week of talks at some of the nation’s leading policy-research centers but which might as well have been billed as a victory lap up the East Coast. The English translation of Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, a formidably rigorous, 700-page history of wealth, out barely five weeks, had just made The New York Times’s best-seller list. But even before it appeared, on the strength of a handful of advance reviews and a surge of Internet buzz, Piketty’s transformation was complete: from respected researcher on income distribution to ranking heavyweight, a scholar who, armed with reams of data and charts—and, unusual for an economist, a gilded tongue—proposed to upend decades of mainstream wisdom on inequality though an unprecedented analysis of the past.

The Economist declared that Piketty’s book may “revolutionize the way people think about the economic history of the past two centuries” and started an online reading group to discuss it chapter by chapter. The British magazine Prospect added Piketty to its annual list of the most influential world thinkers, and his book was said to be making the rounds in the office of Ed Milliband, the British Labour Party leader. Documentary filmmakers were vying for the chance to turn the book into a movie; a composer was seeking Piketty’s blessing to make it an opera.

Now the 42-year-old Frenchman had come, like a wonkish heir to de Tocqueville, to tell Americans how to salvage what he called their “egalitarian pioneer ideal” from a potentially devastating “drift toward oligarchy.” His anointment was all the more remarkable in that he intended his book not just as a novel argument about inequality but as a pointed rebuke to his field—in particular its American wing.

On Monday, Piketty’s stops included the White House Council of Economic Advisers, the Government Accountability Office, and the office of the Treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, who summoned him for a private sit-down to discuss his proposal for a progressive tax on wealth. On Tuesday, he appeared in the company of Nobelists: George Akerlof, who, introducing Piketty to a group at the International Monetary Fund, declared that he had “entered rock stardom—economist-style”; and Robert Solow, who, at the Economic Policy Institute, where a crowd of several hundred had braved a freezing downpour to hear Piketty talk, praised the originality of his argument and the “sheer collection, presentation, and analysis” of his data, predicting that “we’re going to be digesting that for a long time.”

Piketty weathered the fuss with a modest smile. He wore a gray suit jacket but no tie, and with his close-cropped dark hair, clean-scrubbed round face, and unassuming demeanor, he suggested less a rock star than a particularly earnest graduate student. Speaking without notes for 45 minutes at a stretch, in rapid-fire English as engaging as his prose, he eagerly laid out his findings. “The top of the wealth distribution has been rising at 6 to 7 percent per year—three times faster than the world economy,” he told the audience at the Economic Policy Institute. “Nobody knows where this will stop.”

The boldness of Piketty’s thesis is belied by its apparent simplicity: Inequality is intrinsic to capitalism, and, if not forcefully combatted, is likely to increase—to levels that threaten our democracy and fail to sustain economic growth. Karl Marx predicted much worse—runaway inequality leading ultimately to social collapse—and Piketty takes care to distinguish his view from Marx’s apocalypse. Even so, his thesis runs directly counter to mainstream economic theory, which holds that inequality should eventually decline, a process known as “convergence.”

According to Piketty, whose data on income and wealth span three centuries and 20 countries, the forces of convergence (the spread of knowledge and skills, for example) are considerable, but those of divergence have typically had the upper hand. The crux of his argument is a deceptively simple formula: r > g, where r stands for the average annual rate of return on capital (i.e. profits, dividends, interest, and rents) and g stands for the rate of economic growth. For much of modern history, he contends, the rate of return on capital has hovered between 4 and 5 percent, while the growth rate has been decisively lower, between 1 and 2 percent. (Piketty makes a compelling case that economic growth, which depends in good part on population growth, is unlikely to accelerate dramatically anywhere but in Africa, given current demographic trends.) Thus he adduces capitalism’s “principal destabilizing force”: Whenever r > g, “capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.”

In other words, in a slow-growing economy, accumulated wealth grows faster than income from labor. So the rich, who already hold most of the wealth, will get richer, while everyone else, who depend mostly on income from their jobs, will be lucky to keep up with inflation. Countries in which r > g constitute much of the developed world today, including the United States, where the wealthiest 10 percent account for more than 50 percent of the national income, and which, if Piketty’s right, may fast be becoming the world’s worst offender. Across the West, he writes, the levels of inequality “are increasing at a rate that cannot be sustained in the long run and that ought to worry even the most fervent champions of the self-regulated market.” (In Piketty’s scheme, the self-regulated market is by definition an r > g regime: “the more perfect the capital market [in the economist’s sense], the more likely r is to be greater than g.”) Impressed by Piketty’s juxtaposition of r and g, Solow remarked, “So far as I know, nobody had ever fastened on that before.”

The notable exception to the reign of r > g is the period between 1945 and 1970, capitalism’s so-called Golden Age, also known as the “great compression,” when the economies of Western Europe and the United States expanded and inequality declined. It’s no coincidence, Piketty suggests, that this period spawned modern economics’ optimistic credo: a free market delivers dividends to all. That mantra, he insists, is based on an illusion. Viewed in historical context, the Golden Age reveals itself to have been an aberration—a transient exception to the gloomy r > g rule. Two World Wars and the Great Depression, accompanied by “confiscatory” tax rates imposed on the rich to pay for the war effort, severely reduced many family fortunes, temporarily narrowing the gap between the upper and lower classes. Where convergence theory declared that inequality follows a bell curve, declining as an economy matures, Piketty found the converse to be true: inequality in the 20th century describes an inverted bell curve—a U-shape—whose steep upward climb now shows no signs of abating.

Apparently bedazzled by the book’s arguments, few reviewers mentioned its assault on the field. Yet Piketty’s disdain is unmistakable, the lament of a scholar long estranged from the mainstream of his profession. “For far too long,” he writes, “economists have sought to define themselves in terms of their supposedly scientific methods. In fact, those methods rely on an immoderate use of mathematical models, which are frequently no more than an excuse for occupying the terrain and masking the vacuity of the content. Too much energy has been and still is being wasted on pure theoretical speculation without a clear specification of the economic facts one is trying to explain or the social and political problems one is trying to resolve.”

Piketty’s first published paper appeared in the Journal of Economic Theory in 1993, when he was 22. It consisted of a mathematical model for designing an optimal income tax schedule—and featured abundant references to game theory, Pareto optimality, and Bayesian equilibriums. A precocious math student, Piketty had entered the elite École Normale Supérieure, in Paris, at 18, and by the time he turned 22 had a Ph.D. in economics and job offers from MIT, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. “They were very excited because I was a machine proving theorems, and they liked that,” Piketty told me. He chose MIT and moved to Cambridge, Mass. He stayed just two years.

He liked living in the United States and his colleagues at MIT, and it was exciting to teach graduate students, who were mostly older than he was. “At the same time that I was very happy, I was thinking that something strange was going on,” he recalled. The problem, he quickly concluded, was that he “knew nothing at all about economics.”

He continued to publish theorems on income distribution but increasingly wondered how inequality looked in the real world. How had it evolved over time? “I realized that there was a lot of data out there that had never been used in a systematic way,” he said. As a student, he’d been as interested in history and sociology as in economics, admiring the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Fernand Braudel, and Claude Lévi-Strauss. Piketty’s parents, who never finished high school, had joined the student protests of 1968, and, as a teenager, Piketty spent a summer working for a grandfather—”an entrepreneur with a strong capitalist ethic”—who owned a stone quarry outside Paris. Yet greater influences on his development, he believes, were the dramatic events taking place in Eastern Europe. The year he entered the École Normale, the Berlin Wall fell, and by the time he left the Soviet Union had collapsed as well. “It was natural and important to me to ask the question: What can we say about inequality and social justice and the dynamics of distribution under capitalism? Why is it that people thought at some point that communism was necessary?”

Piketty’s colleagues showed little interest in historical research. “What I found quite surprising when I was at MIT was that sometimes there was a level of arrogance with respect to other disciplines in the social sciences, which is really quite incredible,” he said. “In the case of income distribution, which is what I was interested in, we had almost no historical facts about which we knew anything. I found the gap between the self-confidence of the profession and the actual achievement of the profession quite astonishing.”

Or, as Branko Milanovic, senior scholar the Luxembourg Income Study Center at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and an early champion of Piketty’s book put it to me, “There is this sterility to the mathematical models, which are not grounded in reality but in what somebody imagines the behavior of people to be. Economics has lost its taste to address big issues. We have gone into tiny issues, the extreme of which is Freakonomics, which addresses the behavior of sumo wrestlers and why drug dealers live with their mothers. In Spain we have 25-percent unemployment, and you’re discussing sumo wrestlers!”

In one sense, critiques of the discipline are nothing new. Economists, a voluble lot, seem to occupy a disproportionate amount of the blogosphere, and spend a good deal of their time there engaged in heated methodological debate. In a high-profile spat in March, Paul Krugman and Lars P. Syll, an economist at Malmö University, in Sweden, posted rival views of IS-LM (for investment saving-liquidity money), a model that has been a mainstay of macroeconomic theory for decades. Syll dismissed IS-LM as a “brilliantly silly gadget.” Krugman defended it as “a simplification of reality designed to provide useful insight into particular questions. And since 2008 it has done that job, yes, brilliantly.” (In a follow-up post, Krugman was more circumspect: “You should use models, but you should always remember that they’re models, and always beware of conclusions that depend too much on the simplifying assumptions.” )

Still, it’s one thing to trade barbs online, and quite another to present your magnum opus as an act of methodological sedition. Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Piketty makes clear, is his notion of what economics scholarship should look like: combining analyses of macro (growth) and micro (income distribution) issues; grounded in abundant empirical data; larded with references to sociology, history, and literature; and sparing on the math. In its scale and scope, the book evokes the foundational works of classical economics by Ricardo, Malthus, and Marx—to whose treatise on capitalism Piketty’s title alludes. The sizable recent literature on various aspects of inequality earns barely a mention. “There is a fair amount of empirical work out there,” says James K. Galbraith, of the University of Texas at Austin who studies wage inequality and who published one of the few skeptical reviews of the book to date, in Dissent. “He has a tendency to make deferential reference to mainstream thinkers while ignoring the critiques that already exist.”

By contrast, the novels of Jane Austen, Balzac, and Henry James merit a section of their own. Piketty goes so far as to extrapolate, from a close reading of Balzac’s Père Goriot, a phenomenon he calls “Rastignac’s dilemma,” to denote the fact that throughout the 19th century, marrying into inherited wealth was a much surer—and perfectly acceptable—route to a comfortable life than trying to get ahead by dint of one’s talent, education, and hard work. Today, Piketty writes, prime-time shows like House, Bones, and West Wing “feature heroes and heroines laden with degrees and high-level skills” and appear to celebrate “a just inequality, based on merit, education, and the social utility of elites.” But this, he says, may be so much wishful thinking: the number of huge bequests has fallen since the Belle Époque, yet in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the United States, the amount of inherited wealth has rebounded to that historic level and in Piketty’s view continues to wield a distorting effect on our democracy.

No doubt the book’s accessible eloquence has been a boon to its reception. One critic, noting Piketty’s ironic wit, compared his footnotes to Gibbon’s. (A typical aside: “Among the members of these upper-income groups are U.S. academics and economists, many of whom believe that the economy of the United States is working fairly well, and, in particular, that it rewards talent and merit accurately and precisely.”) But Piketty has also benefited from excellent timing.

After leaving MIT in 1995, Piketty returned to Paris and spent the next three years in the basement archives of the French Finance Ministry, culling income, inheritance, and tax-law data from crumbling dossiers. The result of that research was his first book, Les haut revenues en France au XXe siècle: inégalités et redistribution, 1901-1998 (The Top Incomes in France in the 20th Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998), in which he first discovered the U-shaped curve describing inequality in 20th-century France. Piketty says that he would not have written the book had he stayed at MIT—or at least not until he had tenure. “I wanted to return to France because I wanted to get closer to historians and sociologists,” he told me. “My feeling was that if I stayed at MIT, I would have strong incentives to keep doing what I was good at, which was math theorems.”

He sent the book to Anthony Atkinson, an eminent scholar of income inequality at the University of Oxford who has since become a collaborator. Atkinson proposed that Piketty extend his study to other countries. He returned to MIT for a semester in 2000, and while there recruited Emmanuel Saez, then a graduate student in economics, to collaborate with him on a study of income data from the United States. Other researchers on income distribution tended to rely mainly on self-reported household surveys; Piketty used federal income-tax returns, which were introduced in 1913, and which provide a much more accurate picture of incomes at the top.

He wasn’t the first to use such data. Simon Kuznets, author of the influential bell-curve theory of inequality in the 1950s, had also relied on income-tax returns. But his data covered only the period between 1913 and 1948—when inequality declined—and Kuznets himself was more circumspect about the value of his “Kuznets curve” than many of his followers, whose zeal Piketty ascribes to Cold War geopolitics. “When the competition between the Soviet model and capitalist model was very strong, people in the West so much wanted to believe that market economies could bring a reduction in inequality and could bring a balance of distribution of income and wealth,” he told me. With characteristic modesty, Piketty suggested that his main advantage as an economist was to have been born into a generation for whom “the conflict between communism and capitalism no longer really exists.” However, for many disciples of Kuznets, the demise of the Soviet Union seems mostly to have reinforced their faith. In 2011, a committee of leading economists voted the 1955 paper in which Kuznets introduced his famous curve one of the top-20 most influential articles published in American Economic Review.

Piketty’s innovation was to extend Kuznets’s work across many more decades and countries, at a time when most economists, if they relied on empirical data, focused on just a few decades and mostly on wages, not wealth. Or else they obtained their data through controlled experiments rather than through historical research. “What’s actually quite strange is that this has not been done before,” Piketty says of his long-range analysis. “It’s too historical for economists and too economic for historians. It’s a kind of academic no-man’s land.”

In 2003, Piketty, who had become a professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and Emmanuel Saez published their findings on income inequality in the United States. Once again, the data yielded a U-shaped curve over the course of the 20th-century. (If anything, Piketty says, their analysis underestimates the rate of inequality today, given that many top capital holders sequester their wealth in tax havens overseas, where it goes unreported.) At first, their paper provoked little comment. That year, Robert E. Lucas Jr., a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, declared that “of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution.” Lucas, a supply-side enthusiast, urged faith in the long-term benefits of economic growth: “The potential for improving the lives of poor people by finding different ways of distributing current production is nothing compared to the apparently limitless potential of increasing production.”

Five years later, with the collapse of the real-estate market and revelations of predatory lending practices and bloated CEO compensation at investment banks, inequality was suddenly news. Early in 2009, the Obama administration featured, in an overview of the president’s budget, a graph from Piketty and Saez’s research showing the steep upward climb of national income going to the top 1 percent. Seizing on the graph, The Wall Street Journal christened it “the Rosetta Stone to the presidential mind of Barack Obama,” thus helping to promote the idea (no doubt exaggerated) of Piketty and Saez’s influence in the White House. In May 2011, the Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz reported in Vanity Fair that the top 1 percent of Americans now controlled 40 percent of the country’s wealth, making “the 1 percent” a household term and a resounding epithet for the Occupy movement, which took off that fall. Two years later, Robert Reich, the former labor secretary who is now a professor at Berkeley, cited Piketty and Saez’s work—and gave Saez a cameo—in his popular documentary, Inequality for All.

By last December, as word of Piketty’s book, already out in France, began to spread, inequality as a political topic had undergone a transformation of its own: from pet obsession of the liberal left to bipartisan priority. That month, President Obama devoted a major speech to the subject, calling inequality “the defining challenge of our time.” Prominent Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Marco Rubio, soon followed suit, delivering speeches that invoked, however cautiously, income inequality (Rubio’s on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” address), and the Senate finance committee held a hearing on the plight of the middle class.

Whether Capital in the Twenty-first Century survives its spectacular debut to become an inspiration for future scholarship—let alone future policy—will depend in part on how Piketty’s data and interpretation hold up over time. The grumblings of dissent here and there have yet to coalesce into a powerful rebuttal. (Appearing with Piketty on a panel in Washington, Kevin Hassett, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that if you factor in after-tax government transfers, like food and welfare subsidies, to lower-income groups in the past 30 years, these virtually compensate for the increase in income in the top 20 percent. To which Piketty replied, “It’s true there has been a big rise in transfers. But I’m surprised that someone like you, at the AEI, is happy that transfers are decreasing inequality.”) Even detractors agree that the World Top Incomes Database, which Piketty and his collaborators have assembled at the Paris School of Economics, where he now teaches, is invaluable. Covering 30 countries to date, it is by far the largest international database on inequality.

Less likely to endure is Piketty’s remedy for inequality: a progressive global wealth tax on fortunes over 1-million euros.

In Washington, a policy town, remedies were what many of Piketty’s commentators wanted to talk about, and they tended to dismiss his proposal, while taking the opportunity to promote their own ideas instead. Even Piketty concedes that enforcing a global wealth tax would require unprecedented levels of international cooperation and, at least in the United States, where higher taxes are widely believed to lead to lower growth, overcoming entrenched political opposition. Still, in his book he makes an impassioned case, noting that, after all, the United States invented the concept of confiscatory taxation—back in 1919, when Congress introduced a top marginal income-tax rate of 77 percent—out of a conviction that huge incomes and estates were “socially unacceptable and economically unproductive.” (Today the top U.S. income-tax rate is about 40 percent.) Piketty’s argument recently got an indirect boost from a much-discussed study published in February by the International Monetary Fund, hardly a radical body. The study, a multicountry analysis of income inequality, found not only that there is “scant evidence that typical efforts to redistribute”—taxes and credits—”have on average had an adverse effect on growth,” but that lower inequality was generally associated with faster growth.” As Jonathan D. Ostry, the study’s lead author, put it in an email to me, “this logic was indeed an eye opener for us.”

On Wednesday evening, Piketty was in New York, on a panel at CUNY with more Nobelists: Joseph Stiglitz (who has won two) and Paul Krugman, along with Steven Durlauf, an economist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Among the audience at CUNY’s auditorium in midtown were two dozen reporters. So great was the media interest in Piketty that reporters were assigned to a designated seating area, and a press room was set aside for them to interview him at the end of the evening.

Earlier that day, he had appeared at the Council on Foreign Relations and the United Nations, but at CUNY he was among his own kind: academics. He looked delighted. “The United States of America invented progressive taxation largely because they didn’t want to look like class-ridden Europe,” he said as, still tieless but beaming broadly, he showed the audience a Power Point graph tracing the fluctuations in the top income-tax rate.

The other panelists were effusive in their praise. “This is a fantastic book!” Krugman crowed. “It solves problems that people have worried at for decades.” “Some of us went to graduate school at a particular point on his curve, when things were looking very good” Stiglitz said ruefully. “It gave us a distorted view of the world.”

In their excitement over Piketty’s ideas about inequality, they occasionally waded into technical terrain—stochastic modeling and marginal-productivity theory were invoked more than once. But they were just as eager to discuss his remedy, the global wealth tax. “We have some Supreme Court decisions that basically say that corporations are people in terms of their ability to spend money on politics but not in terms of their accountability,” noted Stiglitz. “It’s not going to be an easy battle.” Krugman cited Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” speech of 1910, in which he called for progressive income and inheritance taxes on “big fortunes.” That speech, Krugman suggested, is a reason to feel hopeful that Americans might one day decide to combat inequality again. “The pessimistic view is that the 20th-century narrowing of inequality is entirely the result of wars,” he said. “But, in fact, Teddy Roosevelt was giving that speech before the war, which says that a democratic political system which believes in ideals is capable of reforming itself in the absence of catastrophe.”

Piketty was still smiling when he was escorted from the stage. A roomful of reporters awaited him, and, after that, a fancy dinner. Then he would be on his way—next stop Boston.

April 22nd, 2014
roger herman


APRIL 26 – MAY 31, 2014


April 21st, 2014

Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 9.51.29 AM


April 21st, 2014
Sweden Turns Japanese

By: Paul Krugman
NY Times Published: April 20, 2014

Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was “the rock star of the recovery.”

Then the sadomonetarists moved in.

The story so far: In 2010 Sweden’s economy was doing much better than those of most other advanced countries. But unemployment was still high, and inflation was low. Nonetheless, the Riksbank — Sweden’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve — decided to start raising interest rates.

There was some dissent within the Riksbank over this decision. Lars Svensson, a deputy governor at the time — and a former Princeton colleague of mine — vociferously opposed the rate hikes. Mr. Svensson, one of the world’s leading experts on Japanese-style deflationary traps, warned that raising interest rates in a still-depressed economy put Sweden at risk of a similar outcome. But he found himself isolated, and left the Riksbank in 2013.

Sure enough, Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan.

So why did the Riksbank make such a terrible mistake? That’s a hard question to answer, because officials changed their story over time. At first the bank’s governor declared that it was all about heading off inflation: “If the interest rate isn’t raised now, we’ll run the risk of too much inflation further ahead … Our most important task is to ensure that we meet our inflation target of 2 percent.” But as inflation slid toward zero, falling ever further below that supposedly crucial target, the Riksbank offered a new rationale: tight money was about curbing a housing bubble, to avert financial instability. That is, as the situation changed, officials invented new rationales for an unchanging policy.

In short, this was a classic case of sadomonetarism in action.

I’m using that term (coined by William Keegan of The Observer) advisedly, not just to be colorful. At least as I define it, sadomonetarism is an attitude, common among monetary officials and commentators, that involves a visceral dislike for low interest rates and easy money, even when unemployment is high and inflation is low. You find many sadomonetarists at international organizations; in the United States they tend to dwell on Wall Street or in right-leaning economics departments. They don’t, I’m happy to say, exert much influence at the Federal Reserve — but they do constantly harass the Fed, demanding that it stop its efforts to boost employment.

And when I say that the dislike for low rates is visceral, I mean just that. While sadomonetarists may offer what sound like coherent analytical rationales for their policy views, they don’t change their policy views in response to changing conditions — they just invent new rationales. This strongly suggests that what we’re looking at here is a gut feeling rather than a thought-out position.

Indeed, the Riksbank’s evolving justifications for rate hikes were mirrored at international organizations like the Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements, an influential bankers’ bank that is a sadomonetarist stronghold. Just like the Riksbank, the bank changed its rationale for rate hikes — It’s about inflation! It’s about financial stability! — but never its policy demands.

Where does this gut dislike for low rates come from? At some level it has to reflect an instinctive identification with the interests of wealthy creditors as opposed to usually poorer debtors. But it’s also driven, I believe, by the desire of many monetary officials to pose as serious, tough-minded people — and to demonstrate how tough they are by inflicting pain.

Whatever their motives, sadomonetarists have already done a lot of damage. In Sweden they have extracted defeat from the jaws of victory, turning an economic success story into a tale of stagnation and deflation as far as the eye can see.

And they could do much more damage in the future. Financial markets have been fairly calm lately — no big banking crises, no imminent threats of euro breakup. But it would be wrong and dangerous to assume that recovery is assured: bad policies could all too easily undermine our still-sluggish economic progress. So when serious-sounding men in dark suits tell you that it’s time to stop all this easy money and raise rates, beware: Look at what such people have done to Sweden.

April 21st, 2014
henry matisse

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Henri Matisse
The Sheaf 1953
Collection University of California, Los Angeles. Hammer Museum

The Cut-Outs
17 April – 7 September 2014


April 19th, 2014
sigmar polke

Sigmar Polke
Raster Drawing (Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald), 1963

Through August 3, 2014


April 19th, 2014
thomas piketty tours u.s.

NY Times Published: APRIL 18, 2014

French economists who boldly question the dominance of capital over labor — and call for a progressive global tax on wealth — visit the American halls of power about as often as French rock stars headline Madison Square Garden.

But those halls of power are where Thomas Piketty, a 42-year-old professor at the Paris School of Economics, has been singing his song of late.

Since touching down in Washington this week to promote his new book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” Mr. Piketty has met with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, given a talk to President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and lectured at the International Monetary Fund, before flying to New York for an appearance at the United Nations, a sold-out public discussion with the Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and meetings with media outlets ranging from The Harvard Business Review to New York Magazine to The Nation.

The response from fellow economists, so far mainly from the liberal side of the spectrum, has verged on the rapturous. Mr. Krugman, a columnist for The New York Times, predicted in The New York Review of Books that Mr. Piketty’s book would “change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.”

But through all the accolades, Mr. Piketty seems to be maintaining a most un-rock-star-like modesty, brushing away comparisons to Tocqueville and Marx with an embarrassed grimace and a Gallic puff of the lips.

“It makes very little sense: How can you compare?” he said on Thursday between gulps of yogurt during a break in his packed schedule — before going on to list the 19th-century data sets that Marx neglected to draw on in “Das Kapital,” his 1867 magnum opus.

“If Marx had looked at them, it would have made him think a bit more,” he said. “When I started collecting data, I had no idea where it would go.”

Mr. Piketty’s dedication to data has long made him a star among economists, who credit his work on income inequality (with Emmanuel Saez and others) for diving deep into seemingly dull tax archives to bring an unprecedented historical perspective to the subject.

But “Capital in the 21st Century,” which analyzes more than two centuries of data on the even murkier topic of accumulated wealth, has elicited a response of an entirely different order. Months before its originally scheduled April publication, it was generating intense discussion on blogs, prompting Harvard University Press to push the release forward to mid-February.

Since then, it has hit the New York Times best-seller list, and sold some 46,000 copies (hardback and e-book) — a stratospheric number for a nearly 700-page scholarly tome dotted with charts and graphs (as well as references to Balzac, Jane Austen and “Titanic”).

And not all those readers are economists. Six years after the financial crisis, “people are looking for a bible of sorts,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor of the history of capitalism at the New School, who appeared on a panel with Mr. Piketty at New York University on Thursday. “He’s speaking to a real feeling out there that things haven’t been fixed, that we need to take stock, that we need big ideas, big proposals, big global solutions.”


Mr. Piketty’s book on sale after he spoke Wednesday at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Those big ideas, and the hunger for them, were on ample display at N.Y.U., where the standing-room crowd was treated to Mr. Piketty’s apology for having written such a long book, followed by a breakneck PowerPoint presentation of its main arguments, illustrated with striking charts.

At the book’s center is Mr. Piketty’s contention — contrary to the influential theory developed by Simon Kuznets in the 1950s and ’60s — that mature capitalist economies do not inevitably evolve toward greater economic equality. Instead, Mr. Piketty contends, the data reveals a deeper historical tendency for the rate of return on capital to outstrip the overall rate of economic growth, leading to greater and greater concentrations of wealth at the very top.

Despite this inevitable-seeming drift toward “patrimonial capitalism” that his charts seemed to show, Mr. Piketty rejected any economic determinism. “It all depends on what the political system decides,” he said.

Such statements, along with Mr. Piketty’s proposal for a progressive wealth tax and income tax rates up to 80 percent, have aroused strong interest among those eager to recapture the momentum of the Occupy movement. The Nation ran a nearly 10,000-word cover article placing his book within a rising tide of neo-Marxist thought, while National Review Online dismissed it as confirmation of the left’s “dearest ‘Das Kapital’ fantasies.”

But Mr. Piketty, who writes in the book that the collapse of Communism in 1989 left him “vaccinated for life” against the “lazy rhetoric of anticapitalism,” is no Marxian revolutionary. “I believe in private property,” he said in the interview. “But capitalism and markets should be the slave of democracy and not the opposite.”

Even if he doesn’t expect his policy proposals to find favor in Washington anytime soon, Mr. Piketty called his meetings there gratifying. Mr. Lew, he said, seemed to have read parts of the book carefully. A member of the Council on Economic Advisers corrected a small error concerning Balzac’s novel “Le Père Goriot,” which includes a discussion of getting ahead through advantageous marriage rather than hard work. “I was impressed,” Mr. Piketty said.

His book, however, ends not with an appeal to policy makers, but with a call for all citizens to “take a serious interest in money, its measurement, the facts surrounding it and its history.”

“It’s too easy for ordinary people to just say, ‘I don’t know anything about economics,’ ” he said, before rushing to his next appearance. “But economics is not just for economists.”

April 19th, 2014
Neal Bashor


Opening is Saturday, April 19th, 5-7pm

Reserve Ames

April 17th, 2014
Whose Picture Is It, Anyway?

NY Times Published: April 11, 2014

Last fall, while on a family bike ride around Central Park, I took a photo of my 9-year-old son. His cheeks were flushed, his big brown eyes were lit with happiness and the golden sun made his light-olive skin appear to glow. It was a great picture and one I wanted to share with my friends online.

My son, however, was opposed to the idea. “You’re not going to put that on Facebook, are you?” he demanded, flashing me the look my husband and I had long ago named his “dark and stormy.”

Yes, I told him: “You are my child, and I’m proud of you.”

“But it’s my picture,” he said. “And I don’t want it on your Facebook page.”

My firstborn child is bright and charming. He also bristles at authority. He wants to do almost everything (math homework, tie his sneakers, eat his vegetables) on his own terms. His objection to appearing in my social media feed fit perfectly with his contrarian nature, so I chose to disregard it. I posted the picture later in the day when he was in his room, playing with Legos.

I figured that he would be none the wiser, and, more important, that as his parent, I had the right to go against his wishes.

My parents made me wake up at dawn and swim in an ice-cold pool before any of my friends were out of bed. My father had a belt, my mother a short fuse. Posting a flattering picture of my son online? That hardly seemed like something that would land him on the therapist’s couch as an adult.

Except it very well might. Jim Taylor, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and works with children and families in Marin County, Calif., said it had been a mistake to dismiss my son’s request and wanted to know if I had talked to him about why he felt the way he did.

In fact, I had: while at the sink doing the dinner dishes, my son at the small table in our kitchen, sipping Ovaltine. Our conversation elicited the information that he was O.K. with my emailing his photo to some friends, but Facebook and Twitter were “too public.”

My boy, at 9, had drawn a clear line between what was public and private. It also bothered him that I had not asked for his consent. “I don’t want stuff going on without me knowing,” he explained.

Dr. Taylor, the author of “Raising Generation Tech: Prepare Your Children for a Media-Fueled World,” was impressed. “Your son is obviously pretty darned mature to be already grasping the power that social media can have, its upside and its potential risks,” he said.

My son may also be introverted by nature, unlike his kid sister, who loves to vamp it up for my iPhone camera. Or he may have picked up on subtle cues from my husband (who isn’t on Facebook). “Kids model themselves after their parents,” Dr. Taylor said.

Parents, of course, run the gamut. A friend deletes posts about her children days after uploading them to protect their privacy over the long haul; my editor, a mother of two under 10, not only thought I should honor my son’s wishes but also proclaimed that all parents should abstain from posting pictures of their children online until they are old enough to give explicit consent.

I would be more amenable to her point of view if my favorite part of Facebook wasn’t seeing the features of my childhood friends, many of whom live faraway, such as in Tennessee or Minnesota, in the faces of their offspring: Carrie McAlexander Tessier’s daughter has inherited her red curls! Michael Walsh’s son has his trademark smile!

But Dr. Taylor worries about the “need to chronicle children’s lives on the Internet” and questions “whose needs are being met” when Mom gives a shout-out to Maya’s umpteenth winning goal at soccer or Dad showcases a snap of second-grade Johnny doing fifth-grade math. “Look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Do I get a little ego boost from this?’ ” he said.

Another friend, the novelist Allison Winn Scotch, rebelled last summer against what she calls an “inaccurate” representation of family life online and dared to post a picture of her daughter, then 6, in the midst of a tantrum on the streets of Paris. “Refusal to walk because we didn’t agree on her dinner choice,” Allison wrote.

When I called her and told her about my issue with my son, she said she would never post an unflattering picture of her son, who, apparently, is more sensitive than his sister. He’s also 9, which made me wonder: Could social media awareness be a new developmental milestone? And if so, is my son part of the first wave of children who are nearing adolescence, and all the social awareness that entails, to realize their parents have been posting embarrassing pictures of them online since they were minutes old?

Legally, I’m well within my rights as my son’s guardian, but what about ethically? Howard Cohen, a chancellor emeritus and a professor of philosophy at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Ind., said that depended upon whether I agreed with the teachings of Aristotle or those of Immanuel Kant.

Aristotle saw children as essentially moral beings in training, while Kant viewed morality as a simple matter of relationships between free and rational beings. “To me, the virtue of independence of mind would be something worth considering in this situation,” Professor Cohen said. “By acceding to your son’s request, you are helping him make personal decisions about his own sense of dignity and integrity,” adding that even under Kantian ethics, in consideration of my son’s “fierce” personality, I should think about giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“A child may be rational in some respects and not all respects,” he said. “Your son has exhibited what I would call a willful rational choice.”

I’m willing to agree. This wasn’t an argument about my boy not wanting to eat his peas or wear a coat and tie to a friend’s wedding. Those things are still nonnegotiable. With social media, I had no such moral high ground.

But could there be reasonable exceptions to the rule? Every Christmas Eve, for instance, I’ve orchestrated a family photo on a couch in my mother-in-law’s living room. Since I rarely make the time to send out holiday cards anymore, I’ve been posting that photo on Facebook. I wanted to do it again last year. Would it be ethically permissible for me to override my son in this instance?

Well, Professor Cohen asked, do I want to teach my son “to stick to his principles” or do I want to “teach him about compromise and negotiation”?

“I’m not sure,” I replied. “Both?”

Later that weekend, my son sat on my bed weaving a Rainbow Loom bracelet as I explained what the family Christmas photo meant to me. Would he give me his consent to share it with my friends online?

His answer was still no. “Why can’t you just take the picture and not do anything with it?” he asked.

My thoughts ran to Dr. Taylor’s comments. What were my motives? And were any of them worth upsetting my son? Nope.

“O.K.,” I told my son. “I understand.”

He stood up. “Now can we play some baseball?”

April 16th, 2014
pentti monkkonen




Through May 1

Hacienda via

Truth and Consequences via

April 15th, 2014
Bruce M. Sherman

Untitled, 2014
Stoneware, glaze
7 x 4 x 2 inches

Photo credit: Adam Reich

Bruce M. Sherman | What IS Your Original Face?
Opening Reception: Sunday, April 13. 3-5 PM
April 13 through May 15, 2014

What IS Your Original Face?

“A collection of a hundred great brains makes one big fathead.” – Carl Jung

Not knowing what a body is to be, rather, allowing an inner body to find the outer
body; looking inside the self to find form; producing from quiet; letting intuition
and whimsy act as a medium and a tool rendering the sculptural object complete:
all these are at the nucleus of the work of Bruce M. Sherman. His approach to
sculpture brings to mind corporeal mime, a method developed by Étienne
Decroux in the mid-20th century for performers wishing to transform their ideas
into a physical reality and make visible the invisible. Corporeal mime seeks to
express abstract and universal ideas and emotions through body movement,
much like the way Sherman pursues the expression of intuition (of the inner
body) as a priority over thinking (of the outer body) in the creation of an object.

In Shermanʼs forms, faces and bodies oscillate between concealment and
legibility. Empty vessels sit on top of deconstructed forms made up of mouths,
eyes, hands and feet. Glazes are applied, fired and re-applied to propel
patchwork color combinations, mimicking multiplicity within the self. The Inner
becomes articulated on the outer so that the invisible becomes visible.

Bruce M. Sherman lives and works in New York. Past exhibitions include “Estate
of Lucie Fontaine,” Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; “For January, Just Ask
Alice,” Fitzroy Gallery, New York; “Think Pink,” curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody
at Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach; “Plus B,” curated by Amy Granat at Front Desk
Apparatus, New York; and “Six Americans,” Museo Regional Michoacanao,
Morelia, Mexico. His drawings are featured in Fran Shawʼs forthcoming book
“Lord Have Murphy: Waking Up in the Spiritual Marketplace.”

South Willard Shop Exhibit

April 12th, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wrong
Aluminum, wood, steel, metal hardware
81 x 32 x 70 inches

March 29 – April 26, 2014

Marc Foxx

April 12th, 2014

Watch decline_of_western_civilization in Entertainment  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Friday, April 18, 2014
The Decline of Western Civilization| 7:30 pm
The Decline of Western CivilizationPart III—New 35 mm Print | 9:40 pm


Thanks to Jonathan Maghen

April 10th, 2014
Like, Degrading the Language? No Way

Screen shot 2014-04-10 at 9.53
Credit Tucker Nichols

NY Times Published: APRIL 5, 2014

IF there is one thing that unites Americans of all stripes, it is the belief that, whatever progress our country might be making, we are moving backward on language. Just look at the crusty discourse level of comments sections and the recreational choppiness of text messages and hit pop songs.

However, amid what often seems like the slack-jawed devolution of a once-mighty language, we can find evidence for, of all things, a growing sophistication.

Yes, sophistication — even in the likes of, well, “like,” used so prolifically by people under a certain age. We associate it with ingrained hesitation, a fear of venturing a definite statement. Yet the hesitation can be seen less as a matter of confidence than one of consideration.

“Like” often functions to acknowledge objection while underlining one’s own point. To say, “This is, like, the only way to make it work,” is to implicitly recognize that this news may be unwelcome to the hearer, and to soften the blow by offering one’s suggestion discreetly swathed in a garb of hypothetical-ness.

“Like, the only way to do it” operates on the same principle as other expressions, such as making a request with the phrasing, “If you could open the door …” — hypothetical, when what you intend is quite concrete. “Like” can seem somehow sloppier, but only because youth and novelty always have a way of seeming sloppy.

What’s actually happening is that casual American speech is, in its “like” fetish, more polite than it was before. Sooner than we know it, the people using “like” this way will be on walkers, and all will be right with the world.

The use of “totally” mines the same vein. “He’s totally going to call you” does not mean “He is going to call you in a total fashion.” It has a more specific meaning, although only handled subconsciously by speakers, as so much of language is. “He’s totally going to call you” contains an implication: that someone has said otherwise, or that the chances of it may seem slim at first glance but in fact aren’t. As with “like,” “totally” tracks and nods to the opinions of others. It’s totally civilized.

Linguistically, underneath the distractions of incivility, America is taking a page from Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” There is, overall, an awareness of the states of minds of others in much of what is typically regarded as Clearasil-scented grammatical sloth.

Texting’s famous “lol,” for instance, started as literally meaning “laugh out loud,” but now serves the same function as the quiet chuckles and giggles that decorate most casual conversations, as I learned in research I did with my student Laura Milmed. Lol creates a comfort zone by calling attention to sentiments held in common.

“I just studied for three hours lol” — no one would say that guffawing. It is a graphic titter, channeling the very particular drudgery the texter and the receiver both associate with studying. It warms texting up into a graphic kind of spoken conversation.

In this vein, the “because X” expression recently celebrated by the American Dialect Society as the word of 2013 is just more of the same. “ ‘Five Second Rule’ May Be Real, Because Science,” a blogger noted recently. The usage has a specific meaning, implying a wariness toward claims of scientific backing that all readers presumably understand when, in this case, it comes to whether we can actually always feel safe eating food off the floor. We consider the views of others, we step outside of our own heads. “Because X” is another new way to say “we’re all in this together.”

The increase in public profanity may seem to speak against such a sunny perspective. But what qualifies as profanity? Today, the “four letter” words traditionally termed profanity in American English are more properly just salty. As late as 1920, the lowlier word for excrement rarely appeared in print; its use has increased a hundredfold since. The uses of “damn” and “hell” in print are higher than ever in written history. No anthropologist observing our society would recognize words used so freely in public language as profanity.

At the same time, consider the words we now consider truly taboo, that we enshroud with a near-religious air of sinfulness. They are, overwhelmingly, epithets aimed at groups.

Gone are the days when our main lexical taboos concerned religion — with “egad” as a way to evade saying “Ye Gods!” — or sex and the body, as when Americans started saying white and dark meat to avoid mentioning breasts and limbs.

Instead, today the abusive use of the N-word, the word beginning with F that refers to homosexual men and a four-letter word for a body part that can be used to refer to women are considered beyond the pale even in casual discourse, to an extent that would baffle a time traveler from as recently as 50 years ago.

A keystone of education is to foster awareness of, and respect for, diversities of opinion. Changes in language suggest that the general populace has become much more attuned to this kind of diversity. The increasingly wide and diverse circles of acquaintance Americans are likely to have may increase attention to a certain conversational civility. Texting cries out for substitutes for facial expressions and intonations that cushion and nuance spoken conversation. The civil rights revolution hardly created a paradise, but its impact on what we consider appropriate language was revolutionary.

We may not speak with the butter-toned exchanges of the characters on “Downton Abbey,” but in substance our speech is in many ways more civilized.

We are taught to celebrate the idea that Inuit languages reveal a unique relationship to snow, or that the Russian language’s separate words for dark and light blue mean that a Russian sees blueberries and robin’s eggs as more vibrantly different in color than the rest of us do. Isn’t it welcome, then, that good old-fashioned American is saying something cool about us for once?

April 10th, 2014

Thanks to Steve Hadley

April 10th, 2014
sigmar polke

POZ 10
“Butter”, ca. 1963-1965
Ballpoint pen, gouache on paper
11 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches
30 x 21 cm

Through June 7, 2014

Michael Werner

April 9th, 2014
daniel payavis


April 13 – May 18, 2014
Opening reception: Sunday, April 13, 5 – 8pm

Texan Equities

April 9th, 2014
mathias poledna

Imitation of Life, 2013,
35mm film, 3 minutes

Graduate Lecture Series
April 9, 2014
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM

USC Roski

Thanks to Steven Baldi

April 9th, 2014

April 9th, 2014
Poachers Attack Beloved Elders of California, Its Redwoods

Screen shot 2014-04-09 at 9.19.16 AM
Thieves who target burls, protrusions on trees that are valued for their intricately patterned wood, are driven by a sluggish economy and costly methamphetamine habits, officials said. Credit Jim Wilson

NY Times Published: APRIL 8, 2014

REDWOOD NATIONAL AND STATE PARKS, Calif. — It was an unlikely crime scene: a steep trail used by bears leading to a still, ancient redwood grove. There, a rare old-growth coast redwood had been brutally hacked about 15 times by poachers, a chain saw massacre that had exposed the tree’s deep red heartwood.

The thieves who butchered this and other 1,000-year-old arboreal giants were after the burls, gnarly protrusions on the trees that are prized for their intricately patterned wood. Although timber theft has long plagued public lands, a recent spate of burl poaching, with 18 known cases in the last year, has forced park officials to close an eight-mile drive through old-growth forests, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, at night to deter criminals. More closings are expected.

While some burls are small and barnacle-like — perfect for souvenir salt-and-pepper shakers — others weigh hundreds of pounds and can fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars per slab.

The poachers, known locally as the “midnight burlers,” are motivated by a sluggish local economy and expensive methamphetamine habits, park officials say, and they have been targeting ever-bigger burls and using increasingly brazen tactics. Last year, a redwood estimated to be 400 years old was felled by thieves who wanted access to a 500-pound burl 60 feet up. It was the first time an entire tree was cut down for a burl, said Brett A. Silver, the state park’s supervising ranger.

The burl was so massive that the thieves wound up dragging it behind their vehicle, leaving a trail of skid marks. The trail led rangers two and a half miles to the Redwood Highway — U.S. 101. They found the burl stashed beneath an overpass for safekeeping.

“How many do we have that we haven’t found?” Mr. Silver said of the poached trees. “It’s not just a property crime. It’s a legacy, like hacking up a church.”

This 132,000-acre park, a Unesco World Heritage site, is the repository of a significant portion of the planet’s remaining virgin coast redwoods, which were largely logged by timber companies. The trees thrive only along a narrow, fog-shrouded ribbon of land between the California-Oregon border and Big Sur. The burl wood, with its complex, swirling patterns, is the result of bud tissue that has not sprouted; the park describes it as “a storage compartment for the genetic code of the parent tree.”

Old-growth coast redwoods are among the earth’s most tenacious organisms, some living 2,000 years or more. Removing a burl cuts into a tree’s living cambium layer, which can weaken it and make it vulnerable to insects and disease.

Although scientists are not entirely sure how burls are formed or why, they do consider them to be marvels of biodiversity: Giant burls perched like penthouses above the canopy are habitats for mollusks, salamanders and other creatures. “It’s as if you took a chunk of the forest floor and suspended it into the air,” said Stephen C. Sillett, a professor at Humboldt State University, in Arcata just south of here, who specializes in the ecology of the redwood forest.

Park officials liken the crimes to killing elephants for ivory. The most recent episode, discovered in February, involved 21 burls cut from four trees in the park’s northernmost reaches. The park is managed cooperatively by the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation; investigations of illegal activities are handled by about 12 law enforcement rangers, approximately one per 11,000 acres.

These days, a tight grain of paranoia runs through places like Orick (population 357), which is near the park’s southern entrance and proudly markets itself as a “burlwood capital.” Park investigators have been among the shoppers at establishments like Burl Bill’s that sell redwood gifts — clocks, bears, bees and unfinished slabs — for $500 to $700 apiece. “Everything here has been dead for hundreds of years,” said Burl Bill, who declined to give his real name.

Orick — barely hanging on, with only 11 students in its school — used to be a timber town, but it went into a steep economic decline when its sawmill closed in 2009. Burl poaching, said Joshua Oquist, 27, who grew up in Orick, is “a sad way to earn a living, but there is no industry here.”

Because poaching tends to occur at night off established trails, catching a thief in action is rare, said Paul Gallegos, the Humboldt County district attorney. Quantifying the value of thieves’ spoils is also difficult — and important, Mr. Gallegos said, as the value “can distinguish a felony from a misdemeanor.”

Local culture plays a role in the thefts as well. “People still feel they have a right to extract from the forest to make a living,” Mr. Gallegos said. “But parks are a state and national resource. These trees belong to the people of the United States of America, so they are in fact stealing from them.”

Dealers like Landon Buck, 32, who runs what may be the country’s largest operation, redwoodburl.com, said there were legitimate means of acquiring the wood, including through private lands cleared for new development and salvage permits from lumber companies. Mr. Buck — who looks every bit the burl dealer, with his wool cap and even woollier beard — bought half a million pounds of redwood burls last year and is a presence on eBay. His vast warehouse in Arcata is filled with specialty woods and works by master carvers. “Hey,” he said, glancing around. “Would I risk all this to buy a truckload of burl from some tweaker?”

But there is a strong global demand. Gary Goby, founder of Goby Walnut and Western Hardwoods in Portland, Ore., said that a local buyer might sell a burl to a veneer mill overseas — perhaps one of many in China — where it will be sliced into thin layers that bring out the wood’s elegant whorls. “Finding a remote buyer over the Internet is easy, unfortunately,” he said.

But it is difficult to put a price tag on a stately and ancient tree. Hiking through moist ferns to a ravaged redwood the other day, Jeff Denny, the state park’s redwood coast sector supervisor, observed that the titans in his midst had survived lightning, fire, high winds and other natural disasters, but poachers with chain saws were something else entirely. Consumers need to be aware of a burl’s source, he said, and “ask the tough question: Where does it come from?”

April 9th, 2014
Mary Weatherford

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 8.44.27 PM
La Niña, 2014, Flashe and neon on linen
117 x 104 inches (297.18 x 264.16 cm)

April 19, 2014 — May 31, 2014
Opening Reception: April 19, 6 to 8PM

David Kordansky

April 8th, 2014
Zuni Ask Europe to Return Sacred Art

09ZUNIjp1-articleLargeA Zuni shrine with carved wood idols and a stacked rock wall, 1904. Credit Matilda Coxe Stevenson/National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

NY Times Published: APRIL 8, 2014

PARIS — Octavius Seowtewa, an elder of the Native American Zuni tribe from New Mexico, was sitting in a Paris cafe late last month, scrolling through his iPhone pictures of Ahayuda, carved and decorated wooden poles that are considered sacred to the Zuni. They were taken at his recent meetings with representatives of major European museums, whom he is hoping he can persuade to return the artifacts.

Mr. Seowtewa, who exudes a quiet persistence and was dressed that day in a black leather blazer, dark slacks and a button-down shirt, acknowledged that he hadn’t had much luck in his meetings at the Musée du Quai Branly here or at the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, among others. But he said he was just getting started.

Since 1978, the Zuni have been more proactive than other Native American tribes in reclaiming ceremonial objects: in their case, more than 100 Ahayuda, also called war gods, from institutions and collections in the United States. The Zuni have taken advantage of federal legislation that requires all United States institutions to return objects considered sacred by Native Americans to individual tribes or risk losing federal funding. But those laws do not apply in Europe. Here, the Zuni case is a moral one. “That’s all there is,” Mr. Seowtewa said. “We believe if you listen to us about the power these objects have to our community, that these are exemplars of sacred objects, of communally owned objects,” then museums will consider sending them back, he added.

Mr. Seowtewa said the Zuni wanted back only the Ahayuda and are not asking for other artifacts, including pottery and beads.

But museum experts say that some European museums are concerned that sending objects back, especially if they were bought by museums from private owners, would set an unwelcome precedent that could call into question the legitimacy of other works in their collections: from artifacts acquired from Africa and Asia to even the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, whose return Greece has formally requested several times. Each year, on the winter solstice, the Zuni make two Ahayuda to protect the tribe from harm and to promote fertility. Only the tribe’s special Bow priests are allowed to touch the Ahayuda, which are communally owned, Mr. Seowtewa said, so any that left the Zuni Pueblo over the years, by definition, left illegally.

There are hundreds of Ahayuda extant; they are also made whenever a new Bow priest is initiated, which hasn’t happened in decades. But Mr. Seowtewa said it was impossible to determine when any particular statue had been made or when it had gone missing, because the Ahayuda had been secreted away for centuries, since the tribe’s first contact with Europeans.

While some European museums have sent back a few individual items from their Native American collections to various tribes over the years — as well as human remains, which are governed by different laws — the Zuni are the first tribe to seek the return of objects from so many museums at once in a proactive way.

“My hope is that what we started in the States, being the first tribe to repatriate,” will continue in Europe, Mr. Seowtewa said.

In a separate case last year, the Annenberg Foundation bought 24 items considered sacred to the Hopi Native American tribe at a private auction in Paris for $530,000, in order to return them. That sale was orchestrated with the help of the United States State Department, which has said it is fully supportive of the Zuni quest to reclaim their Ahayuda.

But these cases of repatriation are never simple.

“It’s a culture clash, of museum culture and Zuni culture,” said Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, the curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who has been working with the Zuni tribe on repatriation issues since 2002 and secured grant funding for the European trip, on which he accompanied Mr. Seowtewa.

While Native American tribes want to preserve items sacred to their culture, museums in Europe take a more “colonial” attitude, Mr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh added. “They think it’s their job to preserve culture.”

Mr. Seowtewa said he had high hopes that the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, in the Netherlands, which removed Ahayuda from public view after requests from Zuni religious leaders, might be the first in Europe to return Ahayuda from its collection, largely because the curator of the museum’s North American collection, Pieter Hovens, supported the idea. In an email, Mr. Hovens said he was also hopeful that the repatriation would take place.

But other European museums are reluctant to go down this road. Yves Le Fur, the director of heritage and the collections at the Musée du Quai Branly, which has 101 Zuni items, including one Ahayuda, in its collection, said it was up to France’s Culture Ministry to decide how to proceed.

“In France, the national collections are the inalienable and imprescriptible property of the state,” Mr. Le Fur wrote in an email.

The museum has just opened an exhibition of work by Plains Indians, which will travel later to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Hannah Boulton, a spokeswoman for the British Museum, said that the museum had a “cordial meeting” with Mr. Seowtewa and Mr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh last month, but that it could not comment until it had received a formal repatriation request from the Zuni leaders. She dismissed the idea that returning Ahayuda might set a precedent that would call into question the museum’s claim on other works, including the Elgin marbles.

“It is not about the precedent set, but about the fundamental purpose of the British Museum and its collection,” Ms. Boulton said. The museum exists “to tell the story of human cultural achievement from two million years ago to the present day,” she said, and its trustees want the collection “to remain as a whole.”

Richard Haas, the director of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin — which has come under fire for its vast collection of objects from former German colonies in Africa and from the Kingdom of Benin, in parts of what is now contemporary Nigeria — said that the museum had had “a very interesting and fruitful conversation” with Mr. Seowtewa and Mr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh.

But Mr. Haas said all repatriation decisions fell to the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. “I am sure we will go on with these very important discussions,” he wrote in an email.

Back at the cafe, Mr. Seowtewa said he was eager to continue the conversations. Also, he added, he had gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower that day. “Not many in Zuni have done that,” he said.

April 8th, 2014
bruce m. sherman

Untitled, 2014
Stoneware, glaze
3 1/2 x 3 inches

Photo credit: Adam Reich

Opening Reception: Sunday, April 13. 3-5 PM
April 13 through May 15, 2014

What IS Your Original Face?

“A collection of a hundred great brains makes one big fathead.” – Carl Jung

Not knowing what a body is to be, rather, allowing an inner body to find the outer
body; looking inside the self to find form; producing from quiet; letting intuition
and whimsy act as a medium and a tool rendering the sculptural object complete:
all these are at the nucleus of the work of Bruce M. Sherman. His approach to
sculpture brings to mind corporeal mime, a method developed by Étienne
Decroux in the mid-20th century for performers wishing to transform their ideas
into a physical reality and make visible the invisible. Corporeal mime seeks to
express abstract and universal ideas and emotions through body movement,
much like the way Sherman pursues the expression of intuition (of the inner
body) as a priority over thinking (of the outer body) in the creation of an object.

In Shermanʼs forms, faces and bodies oscillate between concealment and
legibility. Empty vessels sit on top of deconstructed forms made up of mouths,
eyes, hands and feet. Glazes are applied, fired and re-applied to propel
patchwork color combinations, mimicking multiplicity within the self. The Inner
becomes articulated on the outer so that the invisible becomes visible.

Bruce M. Sherman lives and works in New York. Past exhibitions include “Estate
of Lucie Fontaine,” Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York; “For January, Just Ask
Alice,” Fitzroy Gallery, New York; “Think Pink,” curated by Beth Rudin DeWoody
at Gavlak Gallery, Palm Beach; “Plus B,” curated by Amy Granat at Front Desk
Apparatus, New York; and “Six Americans,” Museo Regional Michoacanao,
Morelia, Mexico. His drawings are featured in Fran Shawʼs forthcoming book
“Lord Have Murphy: Waking Up in the Spiritual Marketplace.”

South Willard Shop Exhibit

April 7th, 2014
Oligarchs and Money

NY Times Published: April 6, 2014
By Paul Krugman

Econonerds eagerly await each new edition of the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook. Never mind the forecasts, what we’re waiting for are the analytical chapters, which are always interesting and even provocative. This latest report is no exception. In particular, Chapter 3 — although billed as an analysis of trends in real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates — in effect makes a compelling case for raising inflation targets above 2 percent, the current norm in advanced countries.

This conclusion fits in with other I.M.F. research. Last month the fund’s blog — yes, it has one — discussed the problems created by “lowflation,” which is nearly as destructive as outright deflation. An earlier edition of the World Economic Outlook analyzed historical experience with high debt, and found that countries that were willing to let inflation erode their debt — including the United States — fared much better than those, like Britain after World War I, that clung to monetary and fiscal orthodoxy.

But the I.M.F. evidently doesn’t feel able to say outright what its analysis clearly implies. Instead, the report resorts to euphemisms that preserve deniability: the analysis “could have implications for the appropriate monetary policy framework.”

So what makes the obvious unsayable? In a direct sense, what we’re seeing is the power of conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom doesn’t come from nowhere, and I’m increasingly convinced that our failure to deal with high unemployment has a lot to do with class interests.

First, let’s talk about the case for higher inflation.

Many people understand that a falling price level is a bad thing; nobody wants to turn into Japan, which has struggled with deflation since the 1990s. What’s less understood is that there isn’t a red line at zero: an economy with 0.5 percent inflation is going to have many of the same problems as an economy with 0.5 percent deflation. That’s why the I.M.F. warned that “lowflation” is putting Europe at risk of Japanese-style stagnation, even though literal deflation hasn’t happened (yet).

Moderate inflation turns out to serve several useful purposes. It’s good for debtors — and therefore good for the economy as a whole when an overhang of debt is holding back growth and job creation. It encourages people to spend rather than sit on cash — again, a good thing in a depressed economy. And it can serve as a kind of economic lubricant, making it easier to adjust wages and prices in the face of shifting demand.

But how much inflation is appropriate? European inflation is below 1 percent, which is clearly too low, and U.S. inflation isn’t that much higher. But would it be enough to get back to 2 percent, the official inflation target in both Europe and the United States? Almost certainly not.

You see, monetary experts have long known about the case for moderate inflation, but back in the 1990s, when the 2 percent target was hardening into policy orthodoxy, they thought that 2 percent was high enough to do the job. In particular, they thought it was enough to make liquidity traps — periods when even an interest rate of zero isn’t low enough to restore full employment — very rare. But America has now been in a liquidity trap for more than five years. Clearly, the experts were wrong.

Furthermore, as the latest I.M.F. report shows, there’s strong evidence that changes in the global economy are increasing the tendency of investors to hoard cash rather than put funds to work, thereby increasing the risk of liquidity traps unless the inflation target is raised. But the report never dares to say this outright.

So why is the obvious unsayable? One answer is that serious people like to prove their seriousness by calling for tough choices and sacrifice (by other people, of course). They hate being told about answers that don’t involve more suffering.

And behind this attitude, one suspects, lies class bias. Doing what America did after World War II — using low interest rates and inflation to erode the debt burden — is often referred to as “financial repression,” which sounds bad. But who wouldn’t prefer modest inflation and a bit of asset erosion to mass unemployment? Well, you know who: the 0.1 percent, who receive “only” 4 percent of wages but account for more than 20 percent of total wealth. Modestly higher inflation, say 4 percent, would be good for the vast majority of people, but it would be bad for the superelite. And guess who gets to define conventional wisdom.

Now, I don’t think that class interest is all-powerful. Good arguments and good policies sometimes prevail even if they hurt the 0.1 percent — otherwise we would never have gotten health reform. But we do need to make clear what’s going on, and realize that in monetary policy as in so much else, what’s good for oligarchs isn’t good for America.

April 6th, 2014
kelly marie conder


Joshua Abelow Art Blog

April 6th, 2014
Florian Pumhösl

Georgian Letter, 2013-14
Stamping with oil paint on ceramic plaster
57 9/16 x 40 1/4 inches (146 x 102 cm)

Through April 27, 2014

Miguel Abreu

April 4th, 2014
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