Blair Fix

Blair Fix
York University · Faculty of Environmental Studies

PhD Environmental Studies

About

44
Publications
13,108
Reads
How we measure 'reads'
A 'read' is counted each time someone views a publication summary (such as the title, abstract, and list of authors), clicks on a figure, or views or downloads the full-text. Learn more
157
Citations
Citations since 2016
36 Research Items
154 Citations
201620172018201920202021202201020304050
201620172018201920202021202201020304050
201620172018201920202021202201020304050
201620172018201920202021202201020304050
Introduction
I am a political economist interested in energy, inequality, and hierarchy.

Publications

Publications (44)
Article
Full-text available
Although the determinants of income are complex, the results are surprisingly uniform. To a first approximation, top incomes follow a power-law distribution, and the redistribution of income corresponds to a change in the power-law exponent. Given the messiness of the struggle for resources, why is the outcome so simple? This paper explores the ide...
Article
Full-text available
This paper investigates a new approach to understanding personal and functional income distribution. I propose that hierarchical power—the command of subordinates in a hierarchy—is what distinguishes the rich from the poor and capitalists from workers. Specifically, I hypothesize that individual income increases with hierarchical power, as does the...
Article
Full-text available
For more than a century, political economists have sought to understand the nature of capital. The prevailing wisdom is that there must be something ‘real’ — some productive capacity — that underpins capitalized values. This thinking, I argue, is a mistake. Building on Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler’s theory of capital as power, I argue that...
Article
Full-text available
According to neoclassical economics, the most efficient way to organize human activity is to use the free market. By stoking self interest, the theory claims, individuals can benefit society. This idea, however, conflicts with the evolutionary theory of multilevel selection, which proposes that rather than stoke individual self interest, successful...
Article
Full-text available
Today, human capital theory dominates the study of personal income. But this has not always been so. In this essay, I chart the rise of human capital theory, and compare it to the rise (and fall) of eugenics. The comparison, I argue, is an apt one. Eugenics and human capital theory both focus on isolated traits of individuals. By doing so, both the...
Preprint
Full-text available
Neoclassical economists fundamentally misunderstand the role of natural resources in the economy. I discuss here the source of this misunderstanding, and the ways we can better understand the role of energy to human societies.
Preprint
Full-text available
Free markets are, according to neoclassical economic theory, the most efficient way of organizing human activity. The claim is that individuals can benefit society by acting only in their self interest. In contrast, the evolutionary theory of multilevel selection proposes that groups must suppress the self interest of individuals. They often do so,...
Article
Full-text available
This paper explores how the evolution of human sociality can help us understand how we distribute resources. Using ideas from sociobiology, I argue that resource distribution is marked by a tension between two levels of natural selection. At the group level, selfless behavior is advantageous. But at the individual level, selfish behavior is advanta...
Article
Full-text available
This article examines the relation between personal income and hierarchical power. In the context of a firm hierarchy, I define hierarchical power as the number of subordinates under an individual’s control. Using the available case-study evidence, I find that relative income within firms scales strongly with hierarchical power. I also find that hi...
Article
Full-text available
The study of economic growth is central to macroeconomics. More than anything else, macroeconomists are concerned with finding policies that encourage growth. And by “growth”, they mean the growth of real GDP. This measure has become so central to macroeconomics that few economists question its validity. Our intention here is to do just that. We ar...
Preprint
There is no consensus, in political economy, about the exact relationship between the biophysical and the pecuniary spheres. This paper enters into the debate by asking the following question: how can a biophysical approach to political economy be used to gain insight into the complex interrelationship between the biophysical sphere of economic act...
Article
Full-text available
Where should we look to understand the origin of inequality? I propose an unusual window of evidence—modern societies. I hypothesize that evidence for the origin of inequality is encoded in the institutional structure of industrial societies. To test this idea, I use a model to project modern trends into the past. This model takes the modern relati...
Data
Distribution of slave ownership in the US South in 1860. The blue line shows the distribution of slave ownership in the US South. ‘Steps’ indicate the bins in the original data. The red line shows the best-fit power-law distribution, which has an exponent α = 2.7. The shaded region indicates the range of uncertainty for a sample of 1 million. Slave...
Preprint
Full-text available
What makes the rich different? Are they more productive, as mainstream economists claim? I offer another explanation. What makes the rich different, I propose, is hierarchical power. The rich command hierarchies. The poor do not. It is this greater control over subordinates, I hypothesize, that explains the income and class of the very rich. I test...
Preprint
Full-text available
What if the root of our ecological problems lies not in the ‘economy’, but in the hierarchical power structure of capitalism?
Preprint
Full-text available
The study of economic growth is central to macroeconomics. More than anything else, macroecon-omists are concerned with finding policies that encourage growth. And by 'growth', they mean the growth of real GDP. This measure has become so central to macroeconomics that few economists question its validity. Our intention here is to do just that. We a...
Article
Full-text available
Dematerialization through services is a popular proposal for reducing environmental impact. The idea is that by shifting from the production of goods to the provision of services, a society can reduce its material demands. But do societies with a larger service sector actually dematerialize? I test the ‘dematerialization through services’ hypothesi...
Article
Full-text available
This article discusses the aggregation problem and its implications for ecological economics. The aggregation problem consists of a simple dilemma: when adding heterogeneous phenomena together, the observer must choose the unit of analysis. The dilemma is that this choice affects the resulting measurement. This means that aggregate measurements are...
Preprint
Where should we look to understand the origin of inequality? Most research focuses on three windows of evidence: (1) the archaeological record; (2) existing traditional societies; and (3) the historical record. I propose a fourth window of evidence --- modern society itself. I hypothesize that we can infer the origin of inequality from the modern r...
Article
Full-text available
Human capital theory is the dominant approach for understanding personal income distribution. According to this theory, individual income is the result of "human capital". The idea is that human capital makes people more productive, which leads to higher income. But is this really the case? This paper takes a critical look at human capital theory a...
Preprint
Full-text available
What is the unit of analysis in economics? The prevailing orthodoxy in mainstream economic theory is that the individual is the ‘ultimate’ unit of analysis. The implicit goal of mainstream economics is to root macro-level social structure in the micro-level actions of individuals. But there is a simple problem with this approach: our knowledge of h...
Article
Full-text available
What explains the power-law distribution of top incomes? This paper tests the hypothesis that it is firm hierarchy that creates the power-law income distribution tail. Using the available case-study evidence on firm hierarchy, I create the first large-scale simulation of the hierarchical structure of the US private sector. Although not tuned to do...
Preprint
Full-text available
Human capital theory is the dominant approach for understanding personal income distribution. According to this theory, individual income is the result of ‘human capital’. The idea is that human capital makes people more productive, which leads to higher income. But is this really the case? This paper takes a critical look at human capital theory a...
Thesis
Full-text available
What is the unit of analysis in economics? The prevailing orthodoxy in mainstream economic theory is that the individual is the ‘ultimate’ unit of analysis. The implicit goal of mainstream economics is to root macro-level social structure in the micro-level actions of individuals. But there is a simple problem with this approach: our knowledge of h...
Preprint
Full-text available
What accounts for the growth of US top income inequality? This paper proposes a hierarchical redistribution hypothesis. The idea is that US firms have systematically redistributed income to the top of the corporate hierarchy. I test this hypothesis using a large-scale hierarchy model of the US private sector. My method is to vary the rate that inco...
Preprint
Full-text available
This paper offers a new approach to the study of capitalist income. Building on the 'capital as power' framework, I propose that capitalists earn their income not from any productive asset, but from the legal right to command a corporate hierarchy. In short, I hypothesize that capitalist income stems from hierarchical power. Based on this thinking,...
Preprint
Full-text available
Dematerialization through services is a popular proposal for reducing the human impact on the environment. The idea is that by shifting from the production of goods to the provision of services, a society can reduce its material demands. But do societies with a larger service sector actually dematerialize? This paper tests the 'dematerialization th...
Preprint
Full-text available
This paper examines the relation between personal income and hierarchical power. In the context of a firm hierarchy, I define hierarchical power as the number of subordinates under an individual’s control. Using the available case-study evidence, I find that relative income within firms scales strongly with hierarchical power. I also find that hier...
Preprint
Full-text available
What explains the power-law distribution of top incomes? This paper tests the hypothesis that it is firm hierarchy that creates the power-law income distribution tail. Using the available case-study evidence on firm hierarchy, I create the first large-scale simulation of the hierarchical structure of the US private sector. Although not tuned to do...
Preprint
Full-text available
This article discusses the aggregation problem and its implications for ecological economics. The aggregation problem consists of a simple dilemma: when adding heterogeneous phenomena together, the observer must choose the unit of analysis. The dilemma is that this choice affects the resulting measurement. This means that aggregate measurements are...
Preprint
Full-text available
Based on worldly experience, most people would agree that firms are hierarchically organized, and that pay tends to increase as one moves up the hierarchy. But how this hierarchical structure affects income distribution has not been widely studied. To remedy this situation, this paper presents a new model of income distribution that explores the ef...
Preprint
Full-text available
This paper proposes a new 'power theory' of personal income distribution. Contrary to the standard assumption that income is proportional to productivity, I hypothesize that income is most strongly determined by social power, as indicated by one's position within an institutional hierarchy. While many theorists have proposed a connection between pe...
Article
Full-text available
Why do institutions grow? Despite nearly a century of scientific effort, there remains little consensus on this topic. This paper offers a new approach that focuses on energy consumption. A systematic relation exists between institution size and energy consumption per capita: as energy consumption increases, institutions become larger. I hypothesiz...
Data
Data and code. This zip file contains raw and final data for all analysis conducted in this paper. It also includes R code used for modelling. (ZIP)
Data
Energy and institution size appendices. Contains information on data sources and methods. It also contains extra analysis referenced in the main paper. (PDF)
Chapter
Having conducted an extensive investigation into the empirical realities of growth (in previous chapters), the conclusion is reached that it is time to abandon neoclassical growth theory. This chapter reviews the basic problems with neoclassical theory before outlining some of the essential elements of a biophysical growth theory. The empirical res...
Chapter
This chapter tests the implicit neoclassical assumption that large institutions are not important for growth. The linkage between institutional size and growth is tested by comparing changes in both corporate and governmental employment concentration with the growth of energy consumption (which is used as a metric of biophysical scale). Contrary to...
Chapter
This chapter investigates the implicit neoclassical assumption that distribution is unrelated to growth. This assumption is tested by investigating the relation between the growth of useful work (a biophysical measure of scale) and three different types of distribution: functional, debtor/creditor, and personal. In all three cases, the neoclassical...
Chapter
This chapter investigates the implicit neoclassical assumption that the quantity of economic output can become decoupled from energy inputs. While trends in the energy intensity of US real GDP seem to give evidence for decoupling, this chapter investigates the possibility that such evidence is a methodological artifact that results from the use of...
Chapter
This chapter tests the implicit neoclassical assumption that changes in labor structure are not important for growth. Building on insights offered by Giampietro et al., a simple biophysical model of structural change is advanced and tested. This model is able to accurately reproduce the majority of US labor structure change over the last two centur...
Book
Full-text available
Neoclassical growth theory is the dominant perspective for explaining economic growth. At its core are four implicit assumptions: 1) economic output can become decoupled from energy consumption; 2) economic distribution is unrelated to growth; 3) large institutions are not important for growth; and 4) labor force structure is not important for grow...
Article
Full-text available
Neoclassical growth theory is the dominant perspective for explaining economic growth. At its core are four implicit assumptions: 1) economic output can become decoupled from energy consumption; 2) economic distribution is unrelated to growth; 3) large institutions are not important for growth; and 4) labor force structure is not important for grow...
Article
Full-text available
For the past 30 years Canada has adhered to the neoliberal model of capitalism which has entailed a drastic cutback in public spending. Along with health care and many other social programs, spending on post-secondary education has been significantly curtailed. Between 1986 and 2006, government grants as a share of uni versity operating revenue plu...

Network

Cited By

Projects

Project (1)
Project
To study the effects that firm hierarchy has on income.