Month: January 2021

Failed Economic Ideology Feeding Populism – John Komlos

This week we speak with John Komlos, who is professor emeritus of economics and economic history at the University of Munich. Born in Budapest, he became a refugee 12 years later during the revolution of 1956, and grew up in Chicago, and received his PhD in both history and economics from the University of Chicago. John is a counter-revolutionary thinker in economics. And I mean that in our discussion, we cover a lot of ground as to what feeds his different lines of thinking, and how can we better understand the support for President Trump’s protectionist and populist rhetoric.

To start off, we go into detail about John’s background to clean hungry in 1956 and landed in Chicago not speaking English as a young boy, his outside perspective translated into different view on economics, one counter to the traditional Blackboard economists that are often taught, as john details economics without a greater understanding of how society and people work keeps the discipline of economics only theoretically, engaging and even unhelpful for understanding how the real world works, and how markets actually work.

As he states economics, quote, wants to think of itself as an isolated discipline. And it’s nonsense because the economy is embedded in society and in a political system, and in the culture. And he goes on, basically to outline that there is no isolation of economics or markets from the messy world of politics and society.

And this is why I wanted to have John on the podcast to present a counter-narrative to our current economic system we’re often exposed to and taught. And I appreciate his push and effort to study how people make choices and what influences markets from the everyday world, rather than just theoretical constructions. This push to see the world differently is useful for understanding the energy transition, which is not based on pure technical factors, but rather human and social factors that influence markets and choices around technologies.

The takeaway from our wide-ranging discussion are many, but I would point out the first part of our discussion about John’s background and how it shapes his work. For me, this is inspirational as to how we can approach our own research and efforts to contribute towards a more sustainable energy system. 

The Post-Soviet energy pact: The changing dynamics of fossil fuels and political support – Prof. Margarita Balmaceda

This week we speak with Professor Margarita Balmaceda. She is a professor of diplomacy and international relations at Seton Hall University. She is also an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Her books include The Politics of Energy Dependency, published in 2013. And her other book published in 2014, Living the High Life in Minsk.

In this episode, we get a preview of her latest book that will come out in March 2021, Russian Energy Chains: The Remaking of Technopolitics from Siberia to Ukraine to the European Union.  Because of Margarita’s extensive experience research and writing about Russia, the EU, Belarus and Ukraine we delve into the latest issues. Including Lukesenko’s attempt to hang-onto power after the September 2020 disputed national elections. We get a background on how and why Lukashenko was able to stay in power. We discuss the overreach of Russia and its historical relations with Austria and Germany. Nonetheless, Margarita outlines the historical relationship between EU countries and Russia. Including highlighting the aggressive actions of Russia which under-appreciated the response by the EU.

For me, the quote that summarizes best our discussion and the key take-away is when Margarita states, “energy policies can never be imposed only from above. For the energy services, we depend on, in order to lead a good life, these are part of our expectations of the system in which we live”. This describes well both what happens when people feel secure in the political systems and how they feel when they don’t feel secure. Energy is an essential part of household and business budgets. Governments can make money or they can lose money in both providing energy services to its people and also, in this case, by selling fossil fuels. The energy system needs to be viewed both as a direct provider of benefits for households, but also an income generator for the state budget or other interests, which can either directly or indirectly benefit or harm citizens.

There is a tremendous amount of political-capital invested into energy and the relations that keep the system together and affordable. When energy becomes more expensive or the flows of money shift, the people can also shift their political allegiance The social compact may be broken which leads people to change their support for politicians. Thus, the idea of a social contract, which we discuss, plays an essential part in understanding the interplay of politics and energy.

And now for this episode with Professor Margarita Balmaceda on the shifting post-Soviet social energy pact.

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