Post #2008 Constraints within economics prevent engagement.

What are the self-imposed constraints on new economic thinking?

The purpose of science is to give as best we can a picture of relevant reality. It is not the results of applying a method to a problem only because the problem is tractable with the method. Aa Aristotle made clear, each un known has is appropriate method.The first criteria is to pick a good enough example of the problem that, if understood, would actually throw light on the problem, not just on the method.

Economics seems to operate under extreme constraints on what it can or should study. Big data can find the tiny fraction of you that correlates with the tiny fraction in many others, but it cannot find the Plato or Bob Dylan in you. So big data misses lots that is relevant to actual humans. The admonition to grad students and tenure seekers to find a good data set might be good careerism but bad science.

If we accept the constraints, like keeping economics separate from politics or the other social sciences, how can we live up to the challenge for new economic thinking? New economic thinking probably requires introducing new aspects of reality, new “variables”, into the discussion. To introduce new methods without considering new aspects of reality probably can’t bring us very far and reflect a conservative – “things have to change in order to remain the same” approach, which might provide an important clue as to the motive for the slow movement of new economic thinking.

Constraints emerge because we stay within assumptions that we do not violate:

The assumption of capitalism.
The assumption that ownership is not a legitimate category of economics
The lack of discussion of the caste system that divided us into owners and workers, labor and capital.The legitimacy of corporations

Economics bypasses all the interesting categories of how the day is spent by an unemployed spouse, by the retired, trust fund babies, artists choosing poverty, those filling out time to retirement by playing videos at their desks, adventurers. We don’t look at the content – much of which is not “economic”- of the lifestyles of the one percent.

Why do we stay within these constraints?

Good manners?
Not wanting to shake up colleagues?
Fear of consequences to career?
Fear of destabilizing society?

Put another way: the world needs managing of the relationship between humanity and the globe, which needs to be a mix if economics, ecology, politics, philosophy, historical understanding, dealing with human nature and civil society. Is economics up for it, or is it holding on to old assumptions that help prevent any integrated approach?

Is there a better way to frame the question?

Post # 2007. Numbers in physics and economics- the difference

Provocation #162 Numbers in physics and economics.

The fact of money as numbers is like catnip for the mathematically inclined. But for something to become a number subject to economic analysis it has to go through a very complex social process of culture building, trust, faith, shared intuition about the worth of something in dollar terms, and the growth of supporting institutions..
Physics is just the opposite.The numbers are given by nature. True, a social process of inventing physics is necessary to be able to see the numbers, but the numbers are not generated by a social process.

The result is that the potentially most interesting parts of economics are ignored: how trust develops, the interaction between the social and the physical worlds, how desires and needs are amplified by media, how style emerges, how preferences form (the Trojan Horse of a more human centered economics), for example the US style stand-alone house vs. the close structure of the European hill-towns. Reflexivity means dynamics of a social field, but people are treated as isolated with internal preferences a bit like Plato’s innate ideas.

Economics could be about how society works and how to manage the interactions between humans and environment more skillfully – but not if sych workings with all their complexity are not seen as a question.
Economics students are told “search for data bases” and apply math and create your career.

A a 50 to 150 million dollar severance package after sexual misconduct? This is a symptom, not the sex but the money, of a broken society. Does it get questioned? Or is it just the productive function working its logic and acquiesced to by economists?
I keep coming back to Tim Cook: where is the analysis that says his compensation is based on an adequate economic model of real contributions to Apple’s success? Its customers, for example, are able to use an iPhone because of an expensive education (yes, even a four year old has benefited from much of society allowing them to become customers), but that is treated by Apple as an external it can monetize without having to pay for it. Cook’s wealth is socially generated, privately consumed. This is crazy making – to wit, the current deteriorating state of society which is unnerving us all, and, as Stieglitz says, inequality will continue to get worse. As is often argued, being at the top of a large pyramid should pay more than being at the top of a small pyramid. but this ignores that the existence of both pyramids is the work of a whole society over a number of years. Even the increasing size of a hierarchy under the guidance of a leader pulls together people, ideas, and properties created by others. Each building block of an organization has a history before its incorporation.

“The economy is doing well but society is doing badly.” Employment and the stock market are up, but impact of new jobs on the environment is continuing to increase the stress.

It is all very interesting and very important. But the siloed contributions found in most economic journal articles do not touch on these issues. If you Google “guaranteed annual income and inflation” simple issues like increases in rents and befits to owners and banks are not discussed or brushed over quickly. “The amount of cash put into society by a GAI is small in comparison to the overall GNP.” The reality of a homeless person with their GAI check trying to rent when all the spaces are rented is not explored. It is all gobbledygook with grammatical but not empirical integrity. Lets strive to be more relevant and interesting.

Meanwhile global temperatures and effects ratchet upwards where physics numbers and economic numbers occupy the same space.

Post #2006. Society without economics?

If economics moved in the direction responding to much of the current critique in so many books and articles it would be much less mathematical-and more narrative. Could such a transition be made? Who would teach what? And when done, what jobs would there be? I think this refocus is needed if we are to help prepare society for tough times coming (The simultaneity of climate, inequality, authoritarian governments, automation, pollution impacts)

We have made an economics that helps the flow of financialization but is self contained. The result is that much of the critique, and lots of the posting on INET reflect this, uses the current vocabulary to critique the current practices. Is it possible with the economic vocabulary to construct alternative approaches that go beyond critique? The vocabulary we use is adequate to the financialization of the economy but that vocabulary, for example economic man and rational expectations mandate stripping out human concerns. A common example is talking about income in developing countries in terms like “Income has gone from $1.25 to 1.65 in the last decade, ” with no concern for the surrounding prices, availabilities, or general living conditions, as though 1.65 tells us that. Imagine a good reporter from Buzzfeed or an anthropologist telling us what they see. Even the idea of inequality is inequality in money terms, which might be different from inequality focused on an economy of quality of life, or family quality (employment is up, hooray. Both parents of little children can now go to work. Uh oh.) rather than consumer centered.

I think it is important to reflect on how all societies were until quite recently able to function without economics. What would happen if we just removed economics but not the economy (leaving in place accounting and all the material conditions which form the ensemble economists reify as “the economy”) from this society?
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Post # 2005 Economics, management and home economics

Provocation # 150 management schools.
In the spirit of provocations

Perhaps the split off of management schools from economics put the operational stuff away from the guidance of theory, just as the management schools became control centers for profit making and the success of corporations. At the same time economics was kept pure, not sullied by pragmatic concerns. The result is management is not a thoughtful enterprise with real scope and reach but narrowed to the interests, not of society but of corporations. Economics becomes a somewhat grotesque ensemble of formalisms not giving guidance on how to govern the humanity in the context of our given planet.

Accounting also was given a lower place, full of skills but not guided by either theory (economics) or pragmatics of the business schools, but just a narrow set of skills.
I like the idea of bringing them all back together in an effort to manage the future for the broader good. This could mean a serious blending of science and the humanities. The best of the enlightenment.

As a footnote about the placement of disciplines, remember what used to be called “home economics.” Here are the first sentences of the wiki article on “Home economics.”

Home economics, domestic science or home science is a field of study that deals with home and economics. It deals with the relationship between individuals, families, communities, and the environment in which they live.

Not bad. What happened?

Family and consumer science was previously known in the United States as home economics, often abbreviated “home ec” or “HE”. In 1994, various organizations, including the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, adopted the new term “family and consumer science” to reflect the fact that the field covers aspects outside of home life and wellness. (Also wiki)

The field is also known by other names, including human sciences, home science, and domestic economy. In addition, home economics has a strong historic relationship to the field of human ecology, and since the 1960s a number of university-level home economics programs have been renamed “human ecology” programs, including Cornell University’s program. (More wiki).

Home economics emerged at the turn of the twentieth century as a movement to train women to be more efficient household managers. At the same moment, American families began to consume many more goods and services than they produced. To guide women in this transition, professional home economics had two major goals: to teach women to assume their new roles as modern consumers and to communicate homemakers’ needs to manufacturers and political leaders. The development of the profession progressed from its origins as an educational movement to its identity as a source of consumer expertise in the interwar period to its virtual disappearance by the 1970s.[6] An additional goal of the field was to “rationalize housework”, or lend the social status of a profession to it, based on a theory that housework could be intellectually fulfilling to women engaged in it, along with any emotional or relational benefits. (Wiki)

“Home economics” has for decades been a deeply dismissive name. Peculiar, since that is the meaning of economics in the original Greek as used by Aristotle and others. That dismissiveness gets in the way of looking at economics more holistically, a reorientation of economics away from a stress on narrow flows to a fuller exploration of how to manage the planet.

Imagine politics, economics and history along with management and accounting brought together as the integrative discipline of giving guidance on managing the planet as serious estate management , rather than the narrow discipline of exploiting the planet for the benefit of a few that economics has largely become.

Appreciate responses..

Post #2002. Why can they get so rich?

Provocation #149 Why can they get so rich?

In the spirit of provocations..

Cook, Bezos and Musk all want to use money pulled from society and blow it off into outer space, abandoning earth and humanity. As Bezos has said, basically there is nothing on earth worth investing in. Some jobs are created by their space orgasm. But no Parthenon, no Museum of Modern Art, no university, no rising wages are carried into the future.

What rationale for marginal value can locate such wealth in such people? Why does such concentration not lead to a serious examination of the regulations and tax policies of ownership logistics, such value concentrating justifications, not get more serious examination? There is no way that their billions represent a well thought out return on effort. A german real-estate developer, asked if the income gap between him and one of his employees, was reasonable, answered

“I work 20 hours, the employee only 8, so of course its fair. ( a factor 2.5 in time resulting in a factor of 10,000 (10 to the 9th / 10 to the 5th ) in income? “ (Paraphrase from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFIxi7BiScI)

Do economists admire this so much they can’t make the critique?

Hard to image that it is a an income difference based on skills. Their management expertise doesn’t seem that unusual., but it might have been a kind of tenacity, bull headedness, even meanness, that got them to their position.

Tim Cook couldn’t make a dime at Apple if there were not customers. And customers are an essential part of the cycle and the customer is expensive paid for by society that does not get a return because it all goes to the top: lots of education, social position, all from of a larger society that has paid for those customers to be able to buy, but who do not share in the profit. I don’t see any literature about why Cook is such a great manager.

Increase in stock price? f the increase were distributed proportioned to the actual contributions of society and workers the result would be very different. Obviously a high evaluation of stock depends on lots of customers, and they are created by many other factors that are not being compensated but taxed.

It might be that the top positions in largest corporations have to be filled by somebody and the logic of size yields such high benefits to those who, like a winning run in a pinball machine, got there. If this is so, where is economics exploring the cause and the awkward consequences of such concentration?

1993.Not facing issues leads to megacide.

The goal of recreating the Garden of Eden (as nice a life for humans as we could achieve) has long been replaced by turning it over to bankers and developers. The result is a megacide. This is an economy issue. We are not managing the estate well, we are exploiting the land and the people. Economics should be about how to manage the planet, for the good of people. (The nomos part of economy comes from early Greek meaning equal distribution.)

But without a clear sense of goal and necessary steps to get there we are playing the game with blank cards. We don’t seem to be able to make tough arguments and think them through to their implications.The people and the policy makers need us to be doing this thinking and sharing it widely.

The use of oil for transportation for example must be drastically cut IF we are to limit global warming. Do more than a handful of people really disagree? (Global warming is only one part of the megacide. The biomass of all fish falling by half or sea birds by 2/3 is not primarily climate. driven. )

Have any economists modeled out what would happen if gasoline use were to be cut enough by Jan 1 to reach the goal of no more warming by 2020?

(You probably already know that if we were to cut fossil fuel use by 100% global warming would continue to increase because existing co2 will continue to trap heat.)
We would need to look at some rough numbers as to how big the cut would have to be. And, as a first conversation starter, we could model out what would happen if we (sic) cut gasoline use in half by Jan1? (I am not sure that would be enough to prevent the suicidal bullet we have launched at ourselves from reaching its target.) What would happen to existing cars and their use, how would people and institutions cope,
reconfiguring the tasks the cars are used for, and the existing loans that have supported the purchase of the cars? Many loans would default because people won’t pay for cars they can’t drive. That brings down banks. The beginning of chaos. Is this so chaotic that we can’t begin to model the consequences of such a necessary action?

Why don’t we see this kind of conversation? My guess is it is taking place, but I haven’t found it.If you know of such, please let me know.

1991. Progress vs cycles. Implications for us.

Provocation # 143Progress vs cycles. Implications for us

The current state of society brings into question the necessity, even the likelihood, of progress. But is progress actually so wonderful? Paul Valery wrote in 1900, “We later civilizations, we too know that we are vulnerable.” This was a shock to me when I read it in high school. It has continued to put an edge to all my thinking. My current thinking about “progress” is pushed by recent research on the quality of life – better diet, few working hours – of hunter gatherers, and their obvious resistance to settlements (James C. Scott, Against the Grain).

We of course are too formed by the goods of modern society to be able to become cooperative foragers, and the world is too crowded to escape the needs of technological supports, but that doesn’t prevent us from looking at other lives as preferable, even if not for us. We do not know the extent of changes in living that will be demanded of he next generations, but they may be extreme. It is our opportunity to be helpful by pointing out things that may be positive in these forced changes. Aristotle wrote “We can have growth without development and development without growth.” Instead of struggling to get more which has led to inequality and climate damage, a rearrangement of what we have. Intriguing, as we are looking for clues to what, in difficult times, we can do.

There have been two main views of the structure of history: progress and cycles. The West is strongly committed to the perspective that history is a progression: if we can just keep going, things will continue to get better. We have accepted the idea that there is “progress”: fire, electricity, railroads, smartphones. And yet there is concern now that progress may have stalled. Most societies outside the West seem to have held on to a belief in the dominant role of cycles. Rome believed that emperors came in cycles – good, mediocre, bad, good mediocre bad. I think China had a similar sense of emperors coming in cycles. Christian culture has only one: from God’s creation of the world to his ending it. This is a true suicidal wish for a society. The Christian view of dominating the earth and the needs of the mission made growth seem essential.

Our Western civilization is very materialist and technological. Often we hear that a new tech can save the situation. But the human side of history is largely ignored by our dehumanized culture. All societies made of humans show people in roles of leadership, follower-ship, dominated and submissive that are easy to recognize.

Proposition: while material culture changes and some sense of “progress” can be discerned (though nuclear war, surveillance culture, iatrogenic diseases, our inability to cope with climate and population should lead us to question this), the range of human types does not. The inter-generational and cross class dynamics are easy to understand in all societies. Stephen Greenblatt’s new book Tyrant is about how deeply Shakespeare explored these moments. (And its resonance with Trump is constantly present in the book but not stated.)

Put differently: however radical the shifts in technology, the human repertoire of responses remains constant. The benefits of materialism may be seductive but illusory if the quality of lived life of humans with each other is the goal.

All civilizations go through a rise and a fall. Anthropologists explore how the rise starts and writers like Joseph Tainter have explored some of the aspects of the Fall In his Collapse of Complex Societies as does Castells in his book about network induced collapse,  Aftermath. Toynbee in his Study of History uses civilizations as the unit of analysis (he discusses 23, most of which I had never heard of).

As a first approximation lets look at empires (civilizations) as having three phases. (This is of course arbitrary, and much is still to be said about how the phases move from one to the next. Eric Voegelin has written extensively about the mythic structure of three part histories) The three phases are start, middle and end, or rise, stability and decline.)
The major human repertoire within all society are the recognizably the same. In the phase of rising: euphoria and awe and thanking the gods mixed with fear of change and loss of the old; a feeling of stability and smugness and superiority during the middle phase, and fear, dread and scapegoating (see Rene Girard on imitation of desire) during decline. The phases are long enough that people and intellectuals come to accept the quality of the phase as the way things are. The transitions between phases are long and chaotic. Cycle-minded societies, such as the Aztec or classical Greek have ready explanations for change, but the linear minded West, mostly through Middle Eastern influence, has held on to progressive explanations even through bad times. The current mood in the West assumes progress is normal and asks why we are stalled. Asking to speed up progress might actually hasten decline.

As decline begins to be noticed elites restructure law so they continue to benefit at the mid phase rate, but since there is actual decline they must extract more from the poor in order to maintain the illusion of progress. This speeds up the decline. In all societies we can say that there has been progress on the material side (though the collapse of the environment, wars, plagues should put even this in question.) But on the human side the emotional philosophical and political feelings and thought are fairly much the same for every culture’s phase in the cycle. The culture of the phase tends to be perceived as human nature by the people living it. This is actually a barrier to imagination about human possibilities. We get for example books with titles like Religion in Human Evolution (Robert Bellah), assuming evolution and hence progress. (The word evolution implies the un-folding of predetermined structure.) The unit of thought is the species, not empires or civilizations.

Toynbee’s unit of analysis – the civilizations, shows a different approach criticized by most historian who do not want to think outside the boundaries of the single civilization of which they are a part. We get for example the very good history The Rise of the West, by McNeill, made confusing by his sub-titling it A history of the Human Community. Gibbon’s famous history, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by focusing on one phase (or Is that two?) makes it easier to not see that there is a whole cycle. I remember in school that the book was treated a fairly irrelevant since the Romans made mistakes leading to their decline but we, having had the Enlightenment, were not going to make similar mistakes and so we had nothing to learn from Rome. Toynbee’s view takes on more relevance as we begin to question the possibilities for Western Civilization now. Can we imagine we are at the end? Many people think so and having a hard time with it. Westerners who study Asia can more easily deal with cycles for empires as in the very interesting book, Strange Parallels by Victor Lieberman ,which actually compares rise and falls in the West with those in Asia.

Deep thinking says don’t get hysterical about the phase we are in as though continuous progress were possible if we would just do the right thing. For Example, the push for more innovation that just happens to be owned by corporations that are helping to concentrate wealth. Realize that the management, leadership, and cultural tasks shift with each phase. We should face where we are, and respond realistically
The shift to the next phase in the cycle can probably be hastened or delayed, but not overcome Human consistently respond with awe and delight in the beginning, self satisfaction and narrowness of theory in the middle, fear and blame as decline sets in. Leadership tends to share participation (everyone is needed) in the beginning, but starts to maneuver for advantage in the second, and abandons the society in the third.

This whole dynamic of human response is not part of physical nature but a blend of human cognitive, emotional and cultural capacity. “Education” is an attempt to overcome this dynamic but each generation, each person, starts to slowly wake from the dream of their own life into an awareness of the historical moment, and a new generation takes over before he process of education has gone very deep.

The proposal here is that for empires the way people are thinking and the felt quality of their life is determined by the phase they are in . “Progress” is understandable as a way of seeing the world as their society is in the rise and into the stability phase, just as fear and despair and blame are understandable as necessary reactions to decline.

People being what they are and organized into classes, will vary in their response since the poor will feel the effects (though maybe not the awareness) of decline first and the rich last, just as the rich will feel the effects and opportunities of the rise long before the poor (who will suffer even in an upward “progressive” era. Though a rise in expectations tends to draw in more participation from the poorer because of the increase in constructive activity requiring workers. This happened after the plague of 1340’s when the die off of workers led to a rise in wages as rebuilding required more effort.

This view, that progresses is limited to a phase in the life of empires, and that human nature shows itself in similar ways in all societies, has implications for leadership and policy.

The task :
1. Recognize the impact of empire rise and fall. Recognize that the cycles overlap and describe some segments of society but they are not all in synch. Decline can begin in one part of society while another part is still on the rise. But note the emotional reactions of people are fairly consistent with the phase their whole society is in. Contagion and imitation are powerful across a whole empire, even the globe. People across class lines are part of the same culture and there is a homogeneity to the emotions released by the phase the society is moving through.

2. Understand that the year does not come with a label as to where in the cycle we are. It is a question of comparing narratives, being intuitive, doing lots of reading and traveling, and still maybe getting it wrong. But we can do well enough that it is worth the effort.
2. Try to avoid the negative impact on the poor of the shift of society from one phase to the next. A major opportunity for serious thinking can happen as one empire gives way to another: Macedonia to Rome or Feudalism to Industrialization as examples. The tendency is for class interest to prevail through such transitions. Raymond Williams in The Country and the City describes how many country landholders became urban industrialists in England’s 18th and 19th centuries.

3. Design new institutions and governance, as well as infrastructure for flexibility because static “permanent” structures are actually frail under conditions of real change. Most of the world elites’ large estates were built with the idea of dynasty and continuity of inheritance across at least a few generations. In the US most of those became schools, institutes or condos within a generation as major changes were constantly at play.

4. Realize that lives have to be lived now , children born, food to be eaten sociably, sleep to be secure, building and participating should be encouraged and rewarding. Encourage belief in the value of coping in the rolling present (a few years back and a few years into the future.). Self development and social development should work together to make the best of what might be a bad situation.

1986. Three thoughts.

Provocation #142  Three thoughts

Physics is a social creation and so we get histories of physics, which are different from say the history of the evolution of the atoms of the elements starting with the big bang and producing in turn hydrogen to helium to oxygen, etc.) Economics is the thinking about something – the economy, but a history of economics is very different from a history of economies. These histories are nearly totally absent in economics (but do exist in history departments, works such Braudel’s and Hobsbawm’s.) It is obstructionist to leave these histories of economies out (heterodox thinking stays close to the existing boundaries) because new economic thinking should take us outside the current economy and consider others. One can guess that the reason is that a history of economics can be written from within the boundary of thinking from Smith to Keynes, Hayek, Hirschman, etc, but to write of economies would lead to comparisons reminding us all that the economy we have is not the only one possible. Uncomfortable. But to cope with the current complexities and possible solutions, we need to go there.
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On market dynamics, the market is seen as the interplay of supply and demand, but real markets of course are infused with the dynamics of interest, ownership, taste. The apparent attractive arrangement of a market in equilibrium leaves out those things which lead to concentration of wealth: rich pay lower interest rates and have access to better information. If these are added into the dynamics the equilibrium point of a market – unless there is government action – is one person ends up owning it all. This is simple dynamics. Why is this (so it seems to me) so rarely acknowledged?
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A further note, a bit more obscure. The Christian New Testament used the word economia frequently, but this was ignored within post Smith economics because the word was translated from the Greek of Athens and the New Testament into the English of the King James as “administration”. No wonder economists did not see the possible subtle infusion of Christian theology and metaphysics on economic thinking.

“Administration was at times the meaning of “economy” but it was in the context of the proper arrangement of God’s project for humans which allowed god’s practical administrative tasks to also characterize the universe, which has echos in the physics-lust of later economics and tells us more about the invisible hand metaphor in Smith. We of course do have administration but it has lost any sense of a shared goal towards which administration should aim. For the early christians it was god’s plan for humanity to develop itself.
The modern scientific use of “economy” gets in the way of seeing economy as the administration of things, not a science, not an episteme, but as a practical activity of the arrangement of the earth to meet human needs.

We might be better off (Keynes says “like dentistry”) if we had sophisticated accounting and good engineering and planning in the place of a theoretical and detached math appropriate to physical forces. With the math focus one can imagine an infinite series of journal articles that detail after detail never get to the question: what kind of an arrangement of the physical and social world should we have for human being as they are?
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Addendum
This morning’s email had an article from Scientific American, almost ironic.
How Physics Lost Its Way
Scientific American · by John Horgan · July 2, 2018

Does anyone who follows physics doubt it is in trouble? When I say physics, I don’t mean applied physics, material science or what Murray-Gell-Mann called “squalid-state physics.” I mean physics at its grandest, the effort to figure out reality. Where did the universe come from? What is it made of? What laws govern its behavior? And how probable is the universe? Are we here through sheer luck, or was our existence somehow inevitable?

Link to the rest..
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/how-physics-lost-its-way/

 

1981. Post crisis economics

Provocation # 140. Post crisis economics.

It is hard to discuss new economics when the tendency of most discussions is to reform enough to , as Giuseppe De Lampadusa said in the Sicilian-set novel The Leopard, “Things will have to change in order to remain the same.”

An alternative approach is to assume major shocks to the global society, and model what happens. For example, taking the US, if we lost the electric grid, what would happen, or better, how would the economy and economics respond? ? If food shortages emerged and the result was much less food delivered to poor communities and the current levels of food distribution to the 10% remained as they are protected by money and militarized police?
The purpose of such modeling is not to get the numbers right, but to raise questions and surface assumptions.

Along this line, interesting to read some discussions of art in 100 years.

https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-in-2218-1296347?utm_content=from_newscta&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Sunday%20Morning%20Newsletter%206.17&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

Maybe the question is, given “collapse” of climate, markets, finance, cities, can we put side by side models of what might then work and what would not work, and discuss the differences, discuss what makes the differences?