A Blind Leap

And with that, my postdoc is done.

Backing up a bit, for the last two years I’ve had a wonderful research position at York University supervised by political economist Jonathan Nitzan. It was the rare kind of postdoc that allowed me to work on my own research. (What I did with my time? Look at the last two years of writing on this blog!)

Anyway, the job’s been a blast, but the position is over at the end of the month. So what comes next? Well, career-wise, I have no idea. But life-wise, I’ve got big news. My family and I are leaving Toronto and moving to Edmonton.

It’s a decision that was basically made for us. Like many big cities in North America, Toronto has become increasingly unaffordable. House prices are ridiculous. And rents are absurd (to the point where the Toronto Star is running articles about a grandma postering the neighborhood to find an apartment.) But do you know what city remains affordable? That’s right, Edmonton.

So we’re packing house and moving to Edmonton in July. It’s a blind leap and I’m thrilled about it. (Okay, the leap is not completely blind. All of our family lives in Western Canada.)

While the move to Edmonton is a sound life decision, it’s probably a good way to sabotage my academic career. But let’s be honest … I’ve been doing that for years.

Given the choice between padding my academic credentials and doing interesting science, I’ve always chosen the latter. The result has been this blog — something that’s immensely satisfying to write and share with the internet at large. And judging by the reception, many people enjoy the kind of quantitative deep-dives in which I engage.

Well, you probably see where this is going. Yes, I’m asking for your support. But before we get there, let me give you a glimpse into the kind of effort it takes to consistently pump out new research.

For every 3 words you read on Economics from the Top Down, there’s a line of code that’s crunching numbers and making charts. To date, that means I’ve banged out about 150,000 lines of code to analyze the data you get to enjoy. Figure 1 shows the iceberg.

Figure 1: The research iceberg on Economics from the Top Down. The visible portion of this blog (words spilled) grows with a hidden code base that crunches numbers and makes charts. Yes, it’s a lot of work.1

Supporting the commons

Now to the point. I would be honored, dear reader, if you would support my research. To do so, simply follow the link below and sign up for one of the various levels of contribution.


When you become a supporter, you’re of course funding my research. But more than that, you are funding the scientific commons. Everything on this blog is licensed in the Creative Commons, which means it’s free to read and free to reuse. (And it always will be.)

Now the irony is that neoclassical economists will look at my work and judge it to be worthless … literally. Without a paywall, my blog posts have no price. And without a price, neoclassical economists declare that there’s no ‘productive’ contribution to the economy. So as far as they’re concerned, I’m wasting my time.

Fortunately, neoclassical economists are wrong. Science is most valuable when it is free to be shared, reused, and expanded upon. But of course, science is not free to produce. So if you think the work I do has value, I’d be honored if you helped support it.

Transitioning from Patreon to Memberful

Now to some logistics for existing patrons. Going forward, I’m transitioning my crowdfunding from Patreon to Memberful. Here’s why.

First, Patreon seems to have a consistent problem with declined payments. It’s gotten to the point that creators I admire (Steve Keen, for example) are looking for alternative ways of crowdfunding.

Second, Patreon takes a hefty cut of the pie. Now I’m not critizing this cut, because Patreon provides a whole ecosystem to creators — a publishing platform, a way to interact with patrons, payment process, etc. The problem for me is that I don’t use most of these services. I host my blog with WordPress. I communicate directly with supporters through email. And only rarely do I post content to Patreon. (I sometimes post drafts manuscripts, but these can easily be shared via email.)

In short, all I really need from a crowdfunding platform is a backend for dealing with transactions. That’s where Memberful comes in. Memberful is a membership service that specializes in handling subscriptions, and not much else. And for that, it takes a substantially smaller cut than Patreon.2 So going forward, I’ll be crowdfunding using Memberful.

If you’re currently supporting me on Patreon, you have two options:

  1. Do nothing. If you’re happy with the status quo, you don’t need to change anything. Patreon will continue to process your contributions. And regarding content, nothing will change. I’ll still send everything to you directly.
  2. Switch to Memberful. If you want to switch to Memberful, there are two steps. First, cancel your Patreon payment. Then head to my membership page and sign up through Memberful.

    (I know this is annoying. But Patreon is a walled garden, meaning I cannot auto-migrate patrons to a different platform.)

Whatever option you choose, I’m grateful for your support.

Looking ahead

Now to what’s ahead. Although my paid research position is ending, my empirical work continues as usual. Here are some things in the pipeline.

Billionaire ownership networks

First up is an exciting piece about the ownership networks of Canada’s billionaire families — something that fellow Canadian researcher DT Cochrane and I have been working on for the last few months.

Backing up a bit, when most people think of billionaires, they think of piles of cash. But the reality is that great wealth is almost always vested in corporate control. With this control in mind, we’ve crunched the numbers and mapped the ownership hierarchy of ten billionaire families in Canada — the likes of the Rogers, Westons and Thomsons.

These networks of power — built up largely through sprees of corporate acquisition — are a sight to behold. Look for the write up in the coming month.

Proximity to oil power

Next, I’ll expand on some fascinating work by Regan Boychuk. Earlier this year he published a piece called ‘Proximity to Power: The oilpatch & Alberta’s major dailies’. In it, he tracked how Canadian newspapers sensor news that is critical of Alberta’s oilpatch.

To make the case, Boychuk tracked 20 articles written by Mike De Souza, and analyzed how they were sliced and diced (or simply excluded) as the respective newspaper got closer to the center of oil power in Calgary, Alberta.

As soon as I read this piece, I knew I wanted to dive deeper and analyze the text in each version of De Souza’s articles. I’ve run the numbers (using Boychuk’s painstakingly gathered text) and it doesn’t disappoint. The propagandistic editing is a sight to behold. Look for the analysis in the late summer.

Inflationary class struggle

Also in the works is a reply to a reply. Back in March, I published a piece called ‘Inflation! The Battle Between Creditors and Workers’. In it, I measured how US interest rates have changed relative to wages, and how these changes relate to inflation.

In April, Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan responded with a working paper called ‘Inflation as Redistribution: Creditors, Workers, Policymakers’. They pointed out that different debt holders have different interests vis-a-vis interest rates.

In particular, bond holders care about the total return of their asset — a combination of the bond price and the bond interest rate. Looking at this total return, Bichler and Nitzan show that it behaves differently than simple interest rates. In short, my initial analysis probably oversimplified things.

I think Bichler and Nitzan make a good point. My response will look at other ways to study the redistribution struggle that is inflation.

An unknown road

Beyond the above research, I’ve got lots of ideas percolating with only a vague notion of where they might lead. And for me, that’s the most exciting part of doing science.

I live for the adrenaline rush that sits between the hint of an idea and the frenetic analysis that follows. In short, I’m a scientist because I love the journey.

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Hi folks. I’m a crowdfunded scientist who shares all of his (painstaking) research for free. If you think my work has value, consider becoming a supporter.


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  1. “Looking at this total return, Bichler and Nitzan show that it behaves differently than simple interest rates.”

    It does and it doesn’t.

    The problem with the paper’s analysis is that the capital gain portion appears to pop up out of nowhere like magic. Yet it has to come from somewhere. Why? Because the Hold to Maturity value of the bond remains the same – an amount is paid for the bond at the start of its life, an amount paid at the end and a sequence of coupons over its life. For most fixed bonds that never changes. Eventually the bond will disappear and the income paid has to correlate with the Mark to Market value over time – which is essentially a zero sum game over the lifetime of the bond.

    All fixed bonds can be replaced with a simple discount, much as all loans can be replaced with a repo or a roll up payment at the end. All to deliver the same economic return in the base denomination.

    Workers tend not to trade in bonds. So the ‘winners and losers’ from the Mark to Market game is probably somebody else.

    To progress the analysis you probably need to identify who is on the other side of the ‘Mark to Market’ trade and why the transaction will happen at all.

    • Hi Neil,

      Yes, I agree that there is lots to think about. As you say, the capital gain on a bond depends on when you sell. If you hold it to maturity, then there is by definition no capital gain. So what what we actually want to know is who is buying/selling bonds, and when they’re doing it. That complicates things immensely.

  2. “Given the choice between padding my academic credentials and doing interesting science, I’ve always chosen the latter” – very courageous and admirable!

    In my own way I’m doing something similar. I left academia and work on a corporate job, but still do physics research on the side. The downside of course is that I have very limited time to do it, so progress is slow.

    It’s great that you’ve found a way to continue doing your own research through crowdfunding – all the best and looking forward for your future posts!

    • Hi David,

      Yes, it’s tough working a full time job and also doing science. I’m lucky to have a side hustle (substitute high school teaching) that pays okay and is not too demanding.

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