Sunday, January 31, 2010

the times they are a-changin' (final fantasy music edition)

Music has always been a favorite part of the gaming experience for fans of the Final Fantasy (FF) series. A few soundtracks clearly stand out as landmarks in videogame music history, and I would argue the first FF deserving of this status is FF VI. FF VI (released in the US as FF III in October 1994) broke new musical ground in several ways. Here are two examples: the opera scene is regarded as one of the most innovative and charming aspects of the story; and the idea of character theme songs, while not new, showed significant development in FF VI as it pushed the boundary of what is understood to be conventional musical style in games. These are real significant advancements in what we understand videogame music to be.

The FF VI Original Soundtrack (OST) is clearly a work of art. The master composer behind it is Nobuo Uematsu, who actually composed soundtracks for the first 5 FF's as well. So why was VI so special, so groundbreaking? Was it because developers had reached a point where the capabilities of the SNES were being pushed to the limit (Sony's Playstation, part of the "next generation" of consoles, would be released less than a year later, in September 1995)? Was it the musical inspiration derived from a great story? Whatever specifically led to it being so great, Uematsu was clearly at or near his artistic peak with the creation of this soundtrack.

In fact, it would be better to call it an artistic plateau. Uematsu continued to make great songs as the main and sole composer of FF VII, VIII, and IX OSTs (all for the Playstation). However, FF fans were in for a change with FF X, the first Final Fantasy to be released on the Playstation 2, arguably the most successful console in the history of videogames (definitely in league with the Atari, Nintendo, and SNES). Uematsu was no longer the only, nor even the main composer. That job had become a no-man's land, and instead FF fans were introduced to an OST composed by several composers, most notably Masashi Hamauzu (Uematsu's "apprentice"). The job of "main composer" continued to be in flux through FF XII. And now in FF XIII, Hamauzu is the main and sole composer.

It is very interesting to note these changes. While newcomers to the FF series -- or even gamers who have recently been exposed to it-- may not see the change, it is quite noticeable. I would argue the change of composer changes the experience of these games, though of course I cannot say for certain, since FF XIII is not due in the U.S. until March. But I noticed a shift in the tide from the last Uematsu solo work (FF IX) and the first "mix" (FF X) in 2001. To be honest, even at that point I was worried, or at least confused by the change in the music. Consider the difference between these two pieces of music, both from FF X OST. By the way, in this earlier stage of "composer transition" (things become more one-sided in FF XII), about half the songs are still composed by Uematsu.

I'm sure you can tell which one is Uematsu (quiz yourself if you're familiar with his work or if you checked out some of the links I posted above!). To a fan of Uematsu's work, the difference is stark. Aside from the more expansive and "atmospheric" quality of "Besaid Island", there is something about where the music belongs -- primarily in the background as opposed to the foreground -- that strikes me in these pieces. This is exactly what I argue: that the music itself plays a different role in some aspects of FF X, XII, and most likely XIII. It is a role that doesn't sit comfortably with someone who is used to an integrated gaming experience.

And here are two perfect examples of FF XIII's musical style, to further convince you of this change:

What are the implications? Final Fantasy is changing greatly, in ways that go much further than "no more towns" or linear dungeon maps. The music, which has historically been good enough that people are proud to actually own a copy of the OST, is switching hands at a critical point in the series. What, truly, is the future of the Japanese RPG -- does it even exist? Does Hamauzu's more expansive, atmospheric sound lend itself better to a completely different genre? What is --or what should be -- the relationship between music, game, and gamer? I would argue that all of these questions are becoming essential at this moment.

Of course, it's possible that my argument is overly dramatic, but given my attachment to the series I just can't help but think that greater changes lie ahead for FF series and JRPGs more generally, and that a key sign of this change is the retirement of Uematsu from the FF series.

And I would be glad to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

best paragraph i have read in a while

...In fact, probably the best paragraph I've read since the last time I posted an excerpt from this guy! This is taken from Tomlins, "Politics, Police, Past and Present." I would really like any of my law student friends out there reading this to give their thoughts on this:
It is important, I think, to ask whether there are other completely different
ways to write constitutional history. The question arises from what
seems to me the essential complacency of American constitutional history:
constitutional history assumes the Constitution. Hence one is always within
the sphere of its possibility. From within, the Constitution appears as a
protean, amoeba-like phenomenon, really an ideology, constitutionalism,
not a text “in the National Archives” (for the text is usually an afterthought—
interpretation is what counts). So here we encounter no argument
over the Constitution, such as “wheather it is good or not,” but
rather over how the assumed promise of the Constitution is properly to be
realized, or extended. Noticeably, exit is not an option. So here the question
is whether realization should occur through one ideology (popular constitutionalism)
as opposed to another (call it elite juridical constitutionalism).
The trope invoked is that of a “world we have lost” that can be ours again.
The people have surrendered their constitution to juridical supremacy.
They/we must take it back. History legitimates the quest.

The genre or mode of constitutional history is romance. In fact,
Kramer’s is an interesting variation on the genre, for although the implication
is that a resurgence of popular constitutionalism will make things better,
Kramer actually professes no blithe confidence in a positive outcome. It
is up to “us.” This verges on what my colleague Bonnie Honig has dubbed
“gothic” romance. One might add that in full gothic mode Kramershould also demonstrate a certain ambivalence, even fear, toward that to
which he is attached. After all, what are “we” going to do with the Constitution
once we have recovered it? Might we not abuse it? Aren’t “we” in
fact deeply crosscut by all those persisting socioeconomic antagonisms and
cleavages that fragment the possibility that there indeed exists something
that we can call “the people” at all? Class, gender, and race are not simply
conveniently imagined categories of scholarly analysis; they are real social
phenomena. How do you construct a “we” out of us and them? How can
one know that popular constitutionalism, once it has taken back the Constitution,
will not devour its professors? Kramer does not think that thought,
or if he does it is only to deny its possibility. His romance of “the people”
is almost pre-political in its faith.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

assorted links

A list of very good links for your Sunday reading enjoyment.

- Kasparov on Chess and AI, (link via marginalrevolution)

A reflection on the state of chess and computers. Here is my favorite part:
The AI crowd, too, was pleased with the result and the attention, but dismayed by the fact that Deep Blue was hardly what their predecessors had imagined decades earlier when they dreamed of creating a machine to defeat the world chess champion. Instead of a computer that thought and played chess like a human, with human creativity and intuition, they got one that played like a machine, systematically evaluating 200 million possible moves on the chess board per second and winning with brute number-crunching force . . . .
It was an impressive achievement, of course, and a human achievement by the members of the IBM team, but Deep Blue was only intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better.
- For some related news: a few months ago MIT News had a piece announcing a new Artificial Intelligence project led by Marvin Minsky, among others. Finding the field of AI to be in stasis, the goal is to reinvigorate through a series of new problems to tackle. One of the most interesting and crucial of these is, " can the computer read, understand, and explain a children's book?"

- Brad DeLong summons from the archives (start reading after the bullet points) a discussion of a remarkable undergraduate thesis. (Probably not a remarkable finding in itself -- an interesting project would be to dig up famous academics' undergrad theses. They are probably in general much more interesting than most of what their tenured research careers have produced.)

- Deirdre McCloskey, a very good writer and economist (!), offers a personal account of the power of rhetoric in economic science. I thought this was an important and amusing look at the power (or lack thereof) of statistical significance in empirical tests. A good quote:
For one thing, I came to understand that the point of literary study is not merely to dole out stars for greatness. For another - you can see how it might be encouraged by an interest in the rhetoric of economics - I realised that literary, philosophical and narrative sciences (those sciences humaines) exhibit forms of knowledge not attainable by first-order predicate logic, or a system of axioms rich enough to contain arithmetic. For still another, I grasped that logics and axioms depend on such knowledge. And out of all this came the gobsmacking insight that language is more than the transmittal of bits of information. Language is a way of being human - the way of being human - a mobile army of metaphors (you might say).
- This Keynes quote has been floating around the blogosphere lately and I remember it being one of my favorites when I read it in my third semester of grad school. It is from John Maynard Keynes' General Theory of Employment, Interest Rates, and Money, and it discusses the powerful influence the classical school of economics must have had, prior to the 1930s, on everything from economic thought to policy:
It must have been due to a complex of suitabilities in the doctrine to the envi- ronment into which [classical economics] was projected. That it reached conclusions quite different from what the ordinary uninstructed person would expect added, I suppose, to its intellectual prestige. That its teaching, translated into practice, was austere and often unpalatable, lent it virtue. That it was adapted to carry a vast and logical superstructure, gave it beauty. That it could explain much social injustice and apparent cruelty as an inevitable incident in the scheme of progress, and the attemp to change such things as likely on the whole to do more harm than good, com- mended it to authority. That it afforded a measure of justification to the free activities of the individual capitalist, attracted to it the support of the dominant social force behind authority.
Finally, here is a great New Republic article criticizing American business schools for the country's inability to produce real goods in order to be more self-sufficient.

Happy Sunday and enjoy!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

biggest upset in character battle viii so far goes to...

Image via Gamespot

Amaterasu! (scroll down to "correct picks by battle")

Though from the looks of it she doesn't have much chance of getting past the second round.

Full bracket can be viewed here

Sunday, January 17, 2010

consumption spending and health care

Here is a follow-up article (via marginalrevolution) to a post I made about a week ago on the private share of social spending and its relationship to market-based welfare in the U.S. (By the way, that post has three updates now so check back to see some more discussion from Mankiw and Krugman on the issue!) Left Business Observer examines another component of GDP -- consumption -- and asks to what extent our consumer economy is also dominated by health care expenditures.

Here is a good quote to ponder:
While the consumption spike may look like the result of an accounting convention, it’s also reflecting a sad reality: an enormous, and ever-increasing share of our national income is going to health care. Of course, some unquantifiable share of that spending makes people healthier, happier, and more productive. But much of it doesn’t. In economic jargon, it’s a deadweight loss. As the graph above shows, the U.S. devotes a far larger share of its national income to health care than any other country: 37% more than the second-biggest spender, France; 49% more than Canada; 68% more than Sweden; 87% more than the UK. Yet U.S. health indicators are consistently among the worst in the OECD, with terrible ratings on life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, and mental health. U.S. readings on all these are worse than countries spending far less on health care.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

new yorker interviews gene fama?

The New Yorker interviewed a few Chicago school economists about the financial crisis. I don't really understand what its purpose is in doing this. I know what the purpose is, I just don't understand it. While it might create some feeling of satisfaction for liberals privy to individually blaming conservative economists for being stupid (as Krugman likes to call them), or rationally irrational (I don't even know what that means but it's the title of the New Yorker series), the questions asked to these economists are just as stupid and degrading. They are not intellectually edifying at all.

Honestly, these leftists should think about what they would have done in 2007 if they actually knew the crisis was approaching. How would they move to stop it? Would they have placed more regulations on housing? Would they fire the people who promoted the crisis from their positions in academia, Wall St., the government?

I hate to defend conservative economists but this is individualist, American-style liberalism at its best. Consider these superficial passages from the review (interviewer in italics, Fama in plain text):

Many people would argue that, in this case, the inefficiency was primarily in the credit markets, not the stock market—that there was a credit bubble that inflated and ultimately burst.

I don’t even know what that means. People who get credit have to get it from somewhere. Does a credit bubble mean that people save too much during that period? I don’t know what a credit bubble means. I don’t even know what a bubble means. These words have become popular. I don’t think they have any meaning.

I guess most people would define a bubble as an extended period during which asset prices depart quite significantly from economic fundamentals.

-The interviewer does not take the time to discuss what they might mean by a credit bubble -- they stick to terms thrown around in the popular media, such as "bubble", and completely ignore Fama's challenge to them of defining and discussing what a credit bubble is.

Let me get this straight, because I don’t want to misrepresent you. Your view is that in 2007 there was an economic recession coming on, for whatever reason, which was then reflected in the financial system in the form of lower asset prices?

Yeah. What was really unusual was the worldwide fall in real estate prices.

-The article does a lot of "that's your view?", and "this person's view is the opposite", spending little time on discerning the nuances in the arguments.
Back to the efficient markets hypothesis. You said earlier that it comes out of this episode pretty well. Others say the market may be good at pricing in a relative sense—one stock versus another—but it is very bad at setting absolute prices, the level of the market as a whole. What do you say to that?

People say that. I don’t know what the basis of it is. If they know, they should be rich men. What better way to make money than to know exactly about the absolute level of prices.

So you still think that the market is highly efficient at the overall level too?

Yes. And if it isn’t, it’s going to be impossible to tell.

For the layman, people who don’t know much about economic theory, is that the fundamental insight of the efficient market hypothesis—that you can’t beat the market?

Right—that’s the practical insight. No matter what research gets done, that one always looks good.

-Much discussion of the Efficient Markets Hypothesis EMH) doesn't work at the core of why it's important to the crisis. The lesson learned from the EMH is not that the EMH fails to explain the financial crisis (Fama correctly defends this point in the interview). The lesson learned from the EMH is that most people still believe that free and unfettered financial markets are the best way to maximize efficiency. This is not a conclusion of the EMH, rather, it is one of the underlying assumptions. Essentially, belief in the assumptions of the EMH is much more broad in the sense that it implies a certain relationship between the financial and real sectors of the economy. This is not addressed in the article.

I know the business school has a lot of diversity, but is that also true of the university economics department?

Sure. John List is over there. He’s a behavioral economist. Steve Levitt is a very unusual type of economist. His brand of economics, which is an extension of Gary’s is taking over microeconomics.

I spoke to Becker. His view is that what remains distinctive about Chicago is its degree of skepticism toward the government.

-Much of the article is obsessed with narrowing down what "Chicago diversity" is, or who holds this view and that view, etc. Fama has a lot of interesting (and 'interesting' does not mean 'correct') things to say but the interviewer doesn't press him on any of it.
When all this (the financial crisis) started, I joined the debate. Then I stepped back and said, I’m really not comfortable with my insights into what the best way of proceeding is. Let me sit back and listen to people. So I listened to all the experts, local and otherwise. After a while, I came to the conclusion that I don’t know what the best thing to do it, and I don’t think they do either. (Laughs) I don’t think there is a good prescription. So I went back and started doing my own research.

Couldn’t we just ban further bailouts, passing a constitutional amendment if necessary? That would be in line with your views, wouldn’t it?

Right, but is that credible? It’s very difficult to explain how A.I.G. issued all the credit default swaps it issued if people didn’t think the government was going to step in and bail them out. Government pledged, in any case, have little credibility. But that one—I think it’s pretty sure that we they couldn’t live up to it.

-Several of the policy proposals are worded in ridiculous ways to further portray Fama as some irrational person who doesn't understand the social and political implications of his arguments.

I simply do not see the utility in these types of interviews. The obsession of the press with pointing out the "bad guys or gals" and putting labels on them is not a productive way of stimulating debate about the issues and moving forward. Blame like this only moves things backward, leaving many pining for the days when people knew "what was going on" and could predict the crisis. Let's move forward by thinking creatively about how to solve the problems which are the consequences of how we view the economy and its relation to society.

Monday, January 11, 2010

comparing welfare state institutions

Today's New York Times column by Paul Krugman argues against conservatives who say that our health care reform is leading us to a dead end of economic stagnation similar to what social democratic Europe has experienced. He notes that according to a variety of metrics, Europe is doing just as well (or just as bad) as the U.S. Greg Mankiw wants to play the numbers game and responds with a list of the U.S. + developed European countries' PPP-adjusted per capita GDP levels to show how much better off America really is. This is not helpful to Mankiw because it doesn't show what precisely Americans are spending this money on. In fact according to the OECD, the rate of social spending has outpaced GDP growth, so that the ratio of social spending to GDP has risen from 11% in 1990 to over 18% in 2003 (I apologize for the lack of more recent data, but it's clear the trend is still rising given healthcare costs). By the way, The OECD defines social expenditures as:
The provision by public and private institutions of benefits to, and financial contributions targeted at, households and individuals in order to provide support during circumstances which adversely affect their welfare, provided that the provision of the benefits and financial contributions constitutes neither a direct payment for a particular good or service nor an individual contract or transfer.
In addition, private social spending composes over 10% of social expenditures in the U.S., whereas the OECD average is 3%. Private social spending would be things such as employer-provided health plans (market-based health) and pensions (market-based finance). Here is the source for these data. Thus the U.S. may have higher average income (not much of a metric to begin with, since it ignores inequality and other measures of welfare), Americans individually spend more on their own social provisions (and arguably, receive less due to the high market costs of care).

As noted in a previous post, welfare policies in the U.S. have historically been market-reinforcing rather than introducing extra-market solutions to social problems. The difference is essential. Markets have a system of allocation and distribution that is governed by all the standard laws of supply and demand. Extra-market solutions, such as poor relief, have a system of allocation and distribution too but the system here is governed by democratic institutions. (By the way, the U.S. has the one of the lowest poverty relief rates of any developed country.) The fact that public spending in the U.S. is largely private in nature is remarkable.

Various explanations have been made to explain the difference. The most convincing to me is the one which realizes that in the end you can't play these small numbers games like Krugman and Mankiw (and to which, admittedly, I've fallen into) because these developed countries are essentially the same. Statistics don't lie, but it is true that both Krugman and Mankiw have specific theoretical models of welfare in their head that they are relying on when presenting their evidence. These models aren't always explicitly stated for a variety of reasons, one of which is that they involve much bigger and more fundamental battles. In the end, all systems in a developed country are the product of interactions among three separate agents: labor, capital, and the state. The autonomy of the third is debatable but the important point is that it does have an underlying interest in promoting a sustainable economic order which protects the interests of the wealthy (who need a stable climate for investment purposes).

At any rate, this little exchange between Mankiw and Krugman will most likely turn into a debate among various economists in the blogosphere over the next few days. I will keep this post updated with the latest exchanges and some historical perspective on this issue.

UPDATE: Krugman responds to some points here and here

UPDATE 2: Still addressing the debate, Krugman recalls a column from 2005 making, in a similar way, some of the arguments made here.

UPDATE 3: Mankiw responds by quoting his favorite textbook and Edward Prescott here

Sunday, January 10, 2010

reflections on the modern state

Pincus uses economic issues to invigorate study of the Glorious Revolution in his book 1688: The First Modern Revolution:

Edmund Burke – who in his Reflections on the Revolution in France contrasted the sweet reasonableness of 1688 with the violent chaos of 1789 – helped establish the template by which the Glorious Revolution would be judged: a peaceable affair, even by English standards. Later historians buttressed Burke’s contention that what really happened in 1688 was really no revolution at all. The locus classicus of a Glorious Unrevolution was put forth by Thomas Babington Macaulay: “To us who have lived in the year 1848,” he wrote in his History of England, “it may seem almost an abuse of terms to call a proceeding, conducted with so much deliberation, with so much sobriety, and with such minute attention to prescriptive etiquette, by the terrible name of revolution.”

Yet this apparently uneventful transfer of power concealed profound alterations in the relationship between the English crown and its subjects....

More here

Thursday, January 7, 2010

absolute victory

It all came down to two levels, the most insane of the two can be viewed here:

By contrast this was the hardest thing I had to do in Super Mario Galaxy (pfft):

Please Nintendo, don't release another Mario game until at least 11 months from now.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

thought of the day - murakami on writing

Haruki Murakami in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
As I suspect is true of many who write for a living, as I write I think about all sorts of things. I don't necessarily write down what I'm thinking; it's just that as I write I think about things. As I write, I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my thinking down even deeper paths. No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I rewrite, I never reach the destination. Even after decades of writing, the same still holds true. All I do is present a few hypotheses or paraphrase the issue. Or find an analogy between the structure of the problem and something else. (120)
Overall, I didn't find this memoir to be very interesting, but it has its good parts and is a well-articulated statement of Murakami's philosophy on life, told through the perspective of his favorite hobby. I choose this paragraph to share as "thought of the day" because it is the best statement of his writing style; it is also a point which is brought up by his critics: the incompleteness which is glaring in his longer novels but is also present in his shorter ones. I mean "incompleteness" in a very specific sense. Murakami likes to introduce metaphysical ideas and themes into his novels, and these are rarely explained fully, or drawn out completely (in the case of themes). This leaves the reader frustrated at times since there is a lack of closure to some subplots or characters.

In addition, I believe in Kafka on the Shore he has a passage where he talks about the beauty of this incompleteness; if I can find that passage I will definitely post that here too. But I still would say this is the best summary of this central aspect of his writing style.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

why study traditional economic institutions? part III of a week-long series

Question 1, commodification of labor

One thing I really like about being an economic historian is the ability to compare what I learned in my theory courses to what actually goes on in the real world. Sometimes, theory is strengthened this way, but more often than not (at least in economics) a study of economic history yields substantial deviations from the models learned in class. For example, I enjoy discussing historical deviations from the Marxist model because they generally strengthen the central claims of Marx while adding, at the same time, "exceptions" in certain variables that enrich our understanding of the fundamental concepts.

Commodification of labor doesn't fall into the category of "historical deviations" but there is significant variation in how laborers protested against it, specifically in early American history. Discussion of society in the Early Republic must include talk of the republican ideology that is a direct product of the Revolution. Historians from Left to Right have acknowledged the importance of individualism plus community values and the rhetoric of republicanism is the key expression of this concept. And one of the core requirements of this individualism was ownership of property: whether that means land or the product of one's labor more generally does not matter. I argue this republicanism shaped early labor struggles in a way that shows the importance of historically-rooted values of individualism that were a product of the Revolution.

There is a big difference between 1. wanting one's own share of the pie and no less, based on both the work one has put in and some norm of fairness; and 2. wanting control over the size of the pie itself. Both can be seen as radical views of the production process because both assert a democratic alteration of the existing property rights distribution. Certain groups such as Luddites have been concerned with (2). The revolutions in Russia and Cuba were also concerned, primarily, with (2) (of course the story is much more complicated than this, even for the Luddites, but this was one of their aims). We could even argue that some important radical groups in the U.S. were concerned with (2) and carried it through with the development of worker cooperatives and other democratic institutions in the workplace.

However, early labor movements in the U.S. were predominantly concerned with (1). In other words, it is much rarer in the U.S. labor history tradition to see the fundamental institutions of capitalism questioned and much more likely you see them fighting over wage shares or other aspects of the workplace. This is, in fact, one of the central points of Wilentz' arguments against American Exceptionalism. The problem is that this faocus leads to more market-oriented reforms. For example, the U.S. provides millions of dollars in subsidies for private healthcare programs. Social Security was at first very limited (agricultural workers and workers in the home were not qualified) and today to still is limited to market work (care work is completely excluded from compensation, despite the substantial portion of GDP it represents).

The issue, of course, is not to leave the explanation at that. The world is far too complicated to say that the American republican tradition can explain policy today. Furthermore, policy itself is not a constant and some people argue that the labor reforms of the New Deal, for example, were a significant leap forward for labor, not to be spit on by radicals searching solely for the overthrow of capitalism. Additional explanations can be found in analysis of the role of the state in capitalist society, in the peculiar politics of the South, in the legal system, and in private repression of strike behavior. In fact, some would argue that emphasizing these traditional institutions could weaken Marxist analysis, which is the point made at the end of my previous post (point 1), which I will address in my next article. I will then finish with the "big question", how contract law (and law more generally) broke up traditional institutions.

In summary, this post was written to get you thinking about how to apply a theoretical emphasis on traditional economic institutions to current day problems in practice and theory.

Friday, January 1, 2010

why study traditional economic institutions? part II of a week-long series

Part II: academic perspectives on seeing capitalism and an institutional solution

This was my thesis in part I:
The historical and contemporary existence (both of which need to be proved) of moral economies -- more specifically, institutions of democratic governance of the economic sphere-- work against capitalist institutions that have aimed, since day 1, to separate the spheres of politics and economy.
I presented you with a challenge: tell me how to "see" capitalism in history. Imagine it, if you will, forming over time in a society like watching a child grow up. Can we tell of capitalism's emergence by focusing on who controls the surplus value? Is greed becoming the central value in our society? Is some kind of money the universal medium of exchange in a society? What about contracts? Representing the primary means by which rights (or more specifically and most commonly, rights to goods) are exchanged, contracts tell you which property rights are being exchanged in a transaction and thus who owned them to begin with. They thus specify not only ownership of property but also -- in conjunction with contract law -- the rules under which property is transformed by the contracting parties.

Capitalism is an economic system wherein the means of production are privately owned and production is carried out for profit. Some neoclassical economists have a better understanding of this than so-called Marxists such as Michael Merrill, who insist on telling the story of a moral economy through noting the lack of monetary exchange in early Massachusetts. Drawing from the above paragraph, contracts seem to me the most easiest way to imagine capitalism in history but that's because I use an institutional focus. Other approaches may be equally fruitful but for me, the single best way to understand a system of private ownership and transaction of labor power for profit is to understand the rules under which production takes place. Traditional economic institutions, in contrast, should lack private ownership and transaction of labor power for profit. This implies, in turn, that labor power is not seen as a commodity in traditional societies.

This may shock you for a variety of reasons. For instance, you may not feel that your labor power is a commodity, to be bought and sold on a market at the whims of others' preferences, other firms' technology or other workers' or firms' factor endowments (in short, supply and demand). But capitalism necessarily survives because it assumes labor power is "commodifiable" and the power of firms works hard to establish this in our society precisely because it is not intuitive to us as human beings. And hence we see the central conflict between the dramatis personae in this economic system. How will laws work to commodify labor power? Traditional economy is the standard to look toward for understanding what a political economy with noncommodified labor looks like. It is not an ideal type to be praised for its humanity (more on that in the next part). Furthermore, to understand the conflict is to understand, at its very roots, precisely how capitalism was successful at forcing this commodification (yes, I do think the word "force" is most apt here, and in more than just a physical sense of the word).

To summarize: the economic historian needs to focus on traditional economic institutions to understand a political economy that is not based on commodification of labor power. Furthermore, strands of anti-commodification are historically contingent and remain relevant to contemporary society (the point of part I). And thus we've arrived at a tentative answer to "why study traditional economic institutions?" but our work is not done here. All economies are different, all societies are different. One general trait of capitalism is found in some theoretical specifics such as contract law, but resistance in the form of traditional economic institutions experiences much variation across time and space, in the end proving how effective capitalism has been in transforming labor power into a commodity. The key to understanding the answer is in understanding all the different meanings of "commodification". We therefore conclude in part III with some applications of this idea. 1. How can an emphasis on traditional economic institutions weaken Marxist analysis? 2. Does U.S. labor history present us with an exceptional view of commodification of labor power? 3. How precisely did contract law break up the moral economy?

And again -- feel free to leave comments!