Phenomenal World

Phenomenal World

February 6th, 2021

The Villa in the Snow

—   Phenomenal World

The Villa in the Snow

—   Phenomenal World


Edvard Munch, The Villa at Ekely in the Snow, 1927



While the neoliberal era appears to be in crisis, we took on a project to investigate its historical foundations. The tensions of the current political moment are commonly traced to the financial deregulation and economic liberalization of the 1980s and 1990s. The "turn" that took place in these decades has been attributed to economic necessity, ideological commitments, and the interests of powerful political actors.

But key to critiquing the economic policies of this period is the assumption of viable political alternatives. Adam Przeworski's classic 1986 text examines the details of this question.

From the piece:

"What is a 'mistake'? The very possibility of committing mistakes presupposes simultaneously a political project, some choice among strategies, and objective conditions that are independent with regard to the particular movement. If the strategy of a party is determined by economic circumstances, then the notion of mistakes is meaningless: the party can only pursue the inevitable. In a world of economic necessity, the question of errors cannot even be posed.

The notion of mistakes is also rendered meaningless within the context of a radically voluntaristic understanding of historical possibilities. If everything is always possible, then only motives can explain the course of history. For an error is a relation between projects and conditions; mistakes are possible if and only if some strategies are ineffective in advancing the realization of a given project under existing conditions, while other strategies would have advanced it under the same conditions. If we are to draw lessons from historical experience, we can assume neither that the practice of political movements is uniquely determined by any objective conditions, nor that such movements are free to act at will, independently of the conditions they seek to transform. These conditions constitute at each moment the structure of choice: the structure within which actors deliberate upon goals, perceive alternatives, evaluate them, choose courses of action, and pursue them to create new conditions."

Link to the book.

  • In Phenomenal World's first book, Market Economy, Market Society, Przeworski reconsiders the issue: "The social democratic vision of transforming society survived for nearly one hundred years, even when it was imperative to cope with immediate crises, and even when social democrats experienced political defeats. This is what faded at the end of the 1970s." Link. In the book's second introductory text, Stephanie Mudge notes, "social democratic parties can make the difference between mere rights and actual representation. But simply occupying that space isn’t enough—it matters how these parties work, the agendas and policies they promote, and how and for whom (or what) they speak." Link.
  • "It is, decisively, the Italian left’s weakness in proposing achievable reforms at the state level which has made it particularly suffer the effects of the decline of the mass workplace." In the book's first section, David Broder analyzes the "Italian Left After Keynesianism." Link. Also in this section, an interview with former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, link, and interviews with Emanuele Macaluso and Claudio Petruccioli.
  • In the book's second section, an interview with former Spanish Prime minister Felipe González: "What worries me is that to some degree social democracy died of success. It died because it couldn’t understand that the society that it had helped create was not the society which existed when it started." Link to the interview, link to the section's introduction by Juan Andrade. Also in this section, interviews with Begoña San José and Héctor Maravall.
  • "Mitterrand shows that if the path of radical reformism is challenging and uncertain, the alternative has been disastrous." In the final section, Jonah Birch analyzes the political shifts in France. Link to the article. And the section also features interviews with Anicet Le Pors, François Morin, and Roger Martelli.


Hurricanes and Local Public Finance

Assistant Professor in Economics at Temple University RHIANNON JERCH studies the relationship between public goods provision and environmental regulation in urban areas. A recent working paper, co-authored with Matthew Kahn and Gary Lin, examines the consequences of hurricanes on local budgets.

From the abstract:

"Since 1980, over 2,000 local governments in US Atlantic and Gulf states have been hit by a hurricane. Such natural disasters can exert severe budgetary pressure on local governments’ ability to provide critical infrastructure, goods, and services. We study local government revenue, expenditure, and borrowing dynamics in the aftermath of hurricanes. These shocks impact, both, current local public resources through reducing tax revenues and expenditures, as well as future local public resources through increasing the cost of debt. Major hurricanes have much larger effects than minor hurricanes: major storms cause local revenues to fall by 6 to 7%. These losses persist at least ten years after a hurricane strike, leading to a 6% decline in expenditures on important public goods and services and a significant increase in the risk of default on municipal debt. Our results reveal how hurricanes can create a “vicious cycle” for local governments by increasing the cost of debt at critical moments after a hurricane strike, when localities are in greatest need of funding sources. Cities deemed riskier by ratings agencies face higher borrowing costs and thereby face constraints to invest in climate change adaptation. Municipalities with a racial minority composition 1 standard deviation above the sample mean suffer expenditure losses more than 2 times larger and debt default risk 8 times larger than municipalities with average racial composition in the decade following a hurricane strike. These results suggest that climate change can exacerbate environmental justice challenges."

Link to the paper, link to Jerch's' website.

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

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  • Join us on Tuesday, February 9 at 6 pm ET for the year's first session of the Social Wealth Seminar. Saule Omarova will be discussing the case for a US national investment authority. RSVP to
  • "We find that policies that limit evictions are found to reduce COVID-19 infections by 3.8% and reduce deaths by 11%." Kay Jowers et al. on housing precarity and Covid-19. Link.
  • "At New York City higher education institutions, we found that, when compared to higher-income peers, student borrowers from low-income families: are less likely to complete their degree or certificates; earn less; often borrow more; and repay their loans at lower rates." A new report from the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. Link.
  • Kunal Purohit on the rise of sedition cases in India under Modi. Link.
  • "In the world of clean energy, a new set of winners and losers will emerge." In the FT, Leslie Hook and Henry Sanderson on renewable energy and the balance of power. Link.
  • Marcela López-Vallejo and María del Pilar Fuerte-Celis on organized crime, illegal and legal energy markets, and hybrid governance schemes in Northeastern Mexico. Link.
  • "Approximately 35 percent of workers receive no base wage change year over year." John Grigsby, Erik Hurst, Ahu Yildirmaz on nominal wage adjustments. Link.
  • Alessia Vatta on bilateral bodies and funds in collective bargaining arrangements in Italy. Link.
  • Eméfah Loccoh et al. examine rural-urban disparities in mortality among low-income Medicare recipients from 2004 to 2017, finding that "the gap in mortality between rural and urban beneficiaries increased over time." Link.
  • "Using novel weekly mortality data for London spanning 1866-1965, we analyze the changing relationship between temperature and mortality as the city developed. Our main results show that warm weeks led to elevated mortality in the late nineteenth century, mainly due to infant deaths from digestive diseases. However, this pattern largely disappeared after WWI as infant digestive diseases became less prevalent. The resulting change in the temperature-mortality relationship meant that thousands of heat-related deaths—equal to 0.9-1.4 percent of all deaths— were averted." By W. Walker Hanlon, Casper Worm Hansen, and Jake Kantor. Link.
Title The Villa in the Snow
Authors Phenomenal World
Date 2021-02-06
Collection Sources
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