Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 3, 2021
by Tony Wikrent
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 12-31-20]
“The Times’s visual investigation team built a 3-D model of the scene and pieced together critical sequences of events to show how poor planning and shoddy police work led to a fatal outcome.”
A stunning visualization of the police raid, including footage of investigation interviews with officers. The ineptitude uncovered is gross and flagrant. Only the most biased and pro-authoritarian can fail to see the incident as a massive over-reaction by police who were on some sort of psychological thrill ride based on being able to actually shoot at a live target.
The Georgia Senate Race
[Capital and Main, via LA Progressive 12-31-2020]
Dollar General, which he ran between 2003 and 2007, rests on a business model of offering low-cost goods at rock-bottom prices while paying workers poorly. The stores, ubiquitous in low-income neighborhoods, are generally understaffed and have become magnets for crime, according to a recent investigation. The corporate dictum that wages remain at 5% of gross sales “placed us at the bottom of a low-paying industry,” Cal Turner Jr., the son of Dollar General’s founder, told ProPublica.
Perdue presided over a more than 30-fold increase in the number of employee lawsuits filed against the company, according to a Capital & Main review of court filings. While he worked at the firm, 2,494 individual employment cases were filed charging the company with gender and racial discrimination, rampant wage theft, failure to provide medical leave and other workplace violations. In the four years leading up to Perdue taking the helm, 76 employment cases were filed in federal court.
In a just society — such as christianists claim to desire — corporate leaders like Purdue would have been curbed, broken, bankrupted and punished by the legal system, not elevated to the highest public offices in the republic.
Strategic Political Economy
Matt Taibbi, December 28, 2020
Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, director of the National Economic Council under Barack Obama, president of Harvard, and Chief Economist at the World Bank, wrote a post-Christmas editorial for Bloomberg entitled, “Trump’s $2000 Stimulus Checks are a Big Mistake.” ...The genesis of this Summers article is a perfect tale in microcosm about how America’s intellectual elite manages to lose elections to people like Donald Trump. It’s a two-step error. First, they put people like Summers in charge of economic policies. Then, they let them talk in public….
Of course, these same people often believe in jaw-droppingly enormous levels of public aid. Think of the $20 billion in taxpayer funds that went to rescue currency traders in 1995 (presented in the media as a bailout of “Mexico”), the massive IMF bailouts of Asia and Russia in the late nineties, and especially the multi-trillion-dollar Fed-fueled rescues of the finance sector both after 2008, and now (“We’re not going to run out of ammunition,” explained Fed chief Jerome Powell). Other examples include giving companies like Goldman, Sachs 100 cents on the dollar on debts owed them by AIG in that bailout, or the $3.625 billion private intervention to save one crackpot hedge fund called Long Term Capital Management in 1998.
The operating principle in most of those cases was that financial institutions must not be allowed to take crippling losses, even if those losses were the fault of the companies in question, because such a decision might trigger (pick one or more) “a chain reaction,” “catastrophic losses throughout the system,” “graver economic consequences,” the “spread” of investor “flu,” etc., etc.
The thinking of these experts changes, however, the instant the question shifts to rescuing individuals affected by something like the 2008 crash, or the current pandemic. Suddenly we learn that resources are scarce, and the commitment of public money to rescue mere People With Problems risks “moral hazard.”
Ian Welsh, December 29, 2020
The third is the great failing of neoliberal economics: a refusal to deal with distribution. Back on December 10th a story claimed that 11.4 US households were $70 billion dollars behind on rent, averaging $5,000 each….
So, let’s go back to Summers. He sees an aggregate economic number known to be unreliable, assumes that it is reliable in a pandemic. He assumes that people will spend all the money, thus “overheating” the economy, rather than using it to pay off debts (to people who probably are also in over their heads and thus will not be spending much) or saving it. And, he doesn’t take into account the fact that aggregate personal disposable income, even if accurate, is an aggregate figure. Or perhaps, being generous, he assumes UI and other programs catch it all (if they did, we wouldn’t have all those people near eviction or small businesses near bankruptcy.)
Summers lives in an imaginary world. He lives inside models and statistics and assumes that, combined, they represent the world well. The statistics often don’t, the models are often garbage, but a man who has dedicated his life to neoliberal economics cannot, indeed must not, see that, because if he admitted it was true, his entire life would be based on a lie.
[Eschaton, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21]
If you consider… the "risk" of doing just a little bit "too much" for poor and middle class people... versus the risk of doing too little or, quite soon, absolutely nothing more, and consider how people are lining up on that choice... Well, they would prefer plunging the economy into a deeper recession and the misery of millions of people on the off chance people might realize government is actually capable of doing things for them.
The people complaining about a $2000 check (and, I know, this was likely never going to happen, but the people complaining about it are so frightened of the possibility that they won't even let it be used as a rhetorical club) are going to be responsible for what is coming, as is everyone who puts up even minor roadblocks to the few options that are available….
People who never met a tax cut for rich people they don't like have the nerve to lie and claim a $2000 check that phases out [at $75,000 income] benefits wealthy people too much. Larry Summers, who spent the past 2 years trying to get "liberal cred" by arguing for more government spending, suddenly decided this relatively modest amount of money would 'overheat' the economy. None of this is about what they're claiming it is, and if you're really concerned that high income people are getting too much money, raise their damn taxes, including taxing back the 2 grand for people whose 2020 income didn't plunge. But sometimes $400,000 is "middle class" and sometimes $75,000 is "well off". How the fuck does this work?
….They prefer the prospect of the cannibal hordes to the off chance a poor might get a chance to smile for one day. These are sick, sick people, and I'm so tired of the "civility scolds" who tell us we should pretend this is all some sort of high minded intellectual policy debate. Be respectful! Fuck you, rich guy. Go give another speech for $50,000 and explain to your audience how one ration of protein per week is way more than the poors deserve.
Heather Cox Richardson, December 31, 2020 [Moyers on Democracy]
But I had a chance to talk with history podcaster Bob Crawford of the Avett Brothers yesterday, and he asked a more interesting question. He pointed out that we are now twenty years into this century, and asked what I thought were the key changes of those twenty years….
In America, the twenty years since 2000 have seen the end game of the Reagan Revolution, begun in 1980.
In that era, political leaders on the right turned against the principles that had guided the country since the 1930s, when Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt guided the nation out of the Great Depression by using the government to stabilize the economy. During the Depression and World War Two, Americans of all parties had come to believe the government had a role to play in regulating the economy, providing a basic social safety net and promoting infrastructure.
But reactionary businessmen hated regulations and the taxes that leveled the playing field between employers and workers. They called for a return to the pro-business government of the 1920s, but got no traction until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, when the Supreme Court, under the former Republican governor of California, Earl Warren, unanimously declared racial segregation unconstitutional. That decision, and others that promoted civil rights, enabled opponents of the New Deal government to attract supporters by insisting that the country’s postwar government was simply redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to people of color.
That argument echoed the political language of the Reconstruction years, when white southerners insisted that federal efforts to enable formerly enslaved men to participate in the economy on terms equal to white men were simply a redistribution of wealth, because the agents and policies required to achieve equality would cost tax dollars and, after the Civil War, most people with property were white. This, they insisted, was “socialism.”
To oppose the socialism they insisted was taking over the East, opponents of black rights looked to the American West. They called themselves Movement Conservatives, and they celebrated the cowboy who, in their inaccurate vision, was a hardworking white man who wanted nothing of the government but to be left alone to work out his own future. In this myth, the cowboys lived in a male-dominated world, where women were either wives and mothers or sexual playthings, and people of color were savage or subordinate.
With his cowboy hat and western ranch, Reagan deliberately tapped into this mythology, as well as the racism and sexism in it, when he promised to slash taxes and regulations to free individuals from a grasping government. He promised that cutting taxes and regulations would expand the economy. As wealthy people — the “supply side” of the economy — regained control of their capital, they would invest in their businesses and provide more jobs. Everyone would make more money.
The opposite of the “supply side” is the “demand side,” which was a major issue in the 1930s through 1950s. Coming out of the First Great Depression was recognition by all except conservatives and rich reactionaries that the underlying cause of the Depression had been the failure to fairly distribute income, and hence buying power: working people simply were not being paid enough for them to purchase all that could be produced. Franklin Roosevelt’s Federal Reserve chairman from 1934 to 1948, Marriner S. Eccles, explained in his memoir, Beckoning Frontiers (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1951):
''As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth -- not of existing wealth, but of wealth as it is currently produced -- to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation's economic machinery. Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. This served them as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind of effective demand for their products that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations in new plants.
The most progressive and militant labor unions, led by the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), framed this demand side issue as “under-consumption.” The most militant union, the United Auto Workers (UAW) — led by Walter Reuther, probably the greatest union leader in American history — began its November 1945 strike against General Motors by demanding a 30-cent an hour wage under the slogan, “Purchasing Power for Prosperity.”
Focusing national economic policy on the demand side — the purchasing power earned by the nation’s workers — instead of the supply side of how much money rich investors have to “trickle down” to the masses below, is firmly in the uniquely American economics tradition of the Doctrine of High Wages, which has been written out of mainstream economics.
[Truthout, July 9, 2017] (Interview of Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America)
Charles Koch supplied the money, but it was James Buchanan who supplied the ideas that made the money effective. An MIT-trained engineer, Koch in the 1960s began to read political-economic theory based on the notion that free-reign capitalism (what others might call Dickensian capitalism) would justly reward the smart and hardworking and rightly punish those who failed to take responsibility for themselves or had lesser ability. He believed then and believes now that the market is the wisest and fairest form of governance, and one that, after a bitter era of adjustment, will produce untold prosperity, even peace. But after several failures, Koch came to realize that if the majority of Americans ever truly understood the full implications of his vision of the good society and were let in on what was in store for them, they would never support it. Indeed, they would actively oppose it.
So, Koch went in search of an operational strategy — what he has called a “technology” — of revolution that could get around this hurdle. He hunted for 30 years until he found that technology in Buchanan’s thought. From Buchanan, Koch learned that for the agenda to succeed, it had to be put in place in incremental steps, what Koch calls “interrelated plays”: many distinct yet mutually reinforcing changes of the rules that govern our nation. Koch’s team used Buchanan’s ideas to devise a roadmap for a radical transformation that could be carried out largely below the radar of the people, yet legally. The plan was (and is) to act on so many ostensibly separate fronts at once that those outside the cause would not realize the revolution underway until it was too late to undo it. Examples include laws to destroy unions without saying that is the true purpose, suppressing the votes of those most likely to support active government, using privatization to alter power relations — and, to lock it all in, Buchanan’s ultimate recommendation: a “constitutional revolution.”
Today, operatives funded by the Koch donor network operate through dozens upon dozens of organizations (hundreds, if you count the state and international groups), creating the impression that they are unconnected when they are really working together — the state ones are forced to share materials as a condition of their grants. For example, here are the names of 15 of the most important Koch-funded, Buchanan-savvy organizations each with its own assignment in the division of labor: There’s Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Mercatus Center, Americans for Tax Reform, Concerned Veterans of America, the Leadership Institute, Generation Opportunity, the Institute for Justice, the Independent Institute, the Club for Growth, the Donors Trust, Freedom Partners, Judicial Watch — whoops, that’s more than 15, and it’s not counting the over 60 other organizations in the State Policy Network. This cause operates through so many ostensibly separate organizations that its architects expect the rest of us will ignore all the small but extremely significant changes that cumulatively add up to revolutionary transformation. Gesturing to this, Tyler Cowen, Buchanan’s successor at George Mason University, even titled his blog “Marginal Revolution.”
Monopoly Versus Democracy (no paywall)
Zephyr Teachout [Foreign Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21]
Over time, the ultrarich and the many well-compensated professionals who are always available to do their bidding chipped away at the progress that the Populist and Progressive movements achieved. Today’s populists and progressives would do well to remember what are perhaps the most important lessons of those limited victories: the struggle against inequality is primarily a fight against monopoly power in its many guises, and because monopoly power is never race-neutral, that fight cannot truly succeed unless it does so in an inclusive way….
Like their forebears in the early twentieth century, today’s Americans have experienced decades of growing inequality and increasing concentrations of wealth and power. The last decade alone witnessed nearly 500,000 corporate mergers worldwide. Ten percent of Americans now control 97 percent of all capital income in the country. Nearly half of the new income generated since the global financial crisis of 2008 has gone to the wealthiest one percent of U.S. citizens. The richest three Americans collectively have more wealth than the poorest 160 million Americans. In most industries, a few companies control the field, dictating terms, squeezing out competitors, and using differential pricing to extract cash and power. Three companies control digital advertising, four companies dominate beef packing, and an ever-shrinking number own the country’s hospitals. To turn back this monopolistic tide, today’s populists and progressives should focus on the priorities that drove their forebears: breaking up companies that have become too big (or reclassifying them as public utilities) and making it harder for wealth to buy political influence by strictly limiting campaign contributions.
Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy
[NPR, December 28, 2020, via Facebook 12-30-2020]
More than a quarter of all the public health administrators in Kansas quit, retired or got fired this year, according to Vicki Collie-Akers, an associate professor of population health at the University of Kansas. Some of them got death threats. Some had to hire armed guards.
"These are leaders in their community," Collie-Akers says. "And they are leaving broken." Collie-Akers notes these professionals also leaving at a terrible time. The pandemic is still raging. Vaccines still need to get from cities to small towns and into people's arms; public health officers are as important as ever.
[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21] The VA.
[Baltimore Sun, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21] A good wrap-up. Many anecdotes,
[Brookings Institution, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-29-20]
“The COVID-19 pandemic has generated record profits for America’s biggest companies, as well as immense wealth for their founders and largest shareholders—but next to nothing for workers. In a report published last month, we found that many of America’s top retail and grocery companies have raked in billions during the pandemic but shared little of that windfall with their frontline workers, who risk their lives each day for wages that are often so low they can’t support a family. This is especially true of Amazon and Walmart, the country’s two largest companies. Together, they have earned an extra $10.7 billion over last year’s profits during (and largely because of) the pandemic—a stunning 56% increase. Despite this surge, we ranked Amazon and Walmart among the least generous of the 13 large retail and grocery companies studied in our report. The two companies could have quadrupled the extra COVID-19 compensation they gave to their workers through their last quarter and still earned more profit than last year.”
The General Strike in India
[Hampton Institute, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21]
The US news media has given almost no attention to this,
Disrupting mainstream economics
[Naked Capitalism 1-2-21]
...economics is reaching its Copernican Moment – the moment when it is finally becoming clear that the current ways of thinking about economic behavior are inadequate and a new way of thinking enables us to make much better sense of our world. It is a moment fraught with danger, because those in power still adhere to the traditional conventional wisdom and heresy is suppressed….
In the course of my policy and business advisory activities — supporting the G20 Presidencies through my leadership of the Global Solutions Initiative, advising international organizations and national governments with regard to labor, welfare and macroeconomic policy, and working with business leaders to address global economic problems — I have recognized a profound change in the way practitioners view mainstream economics. Economists used to be the high priests of public policy and business strategy, playing a leading role in the formulation of pricing policies, incentive schemes, contract design, monetary and fiscal policies, social and health policies, and much more. Mainstream economics promulgated a simple narrative on the division of responsibilities — a narrative that appeared to suit everyone well in today’s capitalist economies: The purpose of business was to make profit; the purpose of consumers was to satisfy their selfish material desires; and the purpose of government was to devise rules that enabled the businesses in the free-market system to the satisfy the consumption desires efficiently (i.e. at minimum resource cost).
Now the practitioners’ patience with mainstream economics is wearing thin. Unlike the academic economists, the practitioners must actually address the great economic questions of our time. They cannot afford to be satisfied with the two above-mentioned standard answers. They cannot accept that these questions lie outside the domain of economics, even though they have many important economic causes (the world economy as driver of climate change, economic inequalities as drivers of populism and social fragmentation, and so on) and many important economic consequences (climate change driving migration, populism leading to protectionism, and so on). Nor can the practitioners be content with the economists’ standard policy toolbox, since these instruments are obviously not overcoming the growing problems of climate change, social conflict, “deaths of despair,” containment of the Covid-19 pandemic, and much more.
And finally, the practitioners are no longer enamored by the mainstream narrative on the division of responsibilities. Consumers in their millions are taking an interest in the social, political and environmental consequences of consumption and production activities, school children are out in the streets in protest about climate change, international organizations are beginning to measure economic performance beyond GDP (such as through the OECD’s Better Life Index and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals), businesses are beginning to measure business performance beyond shareholder value (such as through Environmental, Social and Governance criteria along with the initiatives of the WEF International Business Council, the OECD Business for Inclusive Growth coalition, the Value Balancing Initiative, the British Academy’s Future of the Corporation programme), national governments are beginning to design budgets with regard to notions of wellbeing that extend beyond consumption of goods and services (such as New Zealand’ wellbeing budget). In short, the practitioners are not waiting for the mainstream economics profession to adjust to reality; instead, they are forging ahead on multiple fronts, extending the domain of economics to the existential challenges we face.
[Mike Norman Economics 1-2-21]
The shortcoming of conventional economics is simple to diagnose. It is focusing overly on economic factors in complex adaptive social systems (human groups, societies) when other factors are not only relevant but also determinative, like social stratification, power, and distributional effects not only of income and wealth but also access that leads to unequal opportunity. But as Yves observes, economics is not really about economics but rather class power. You know, like Marx and Veblen told you.
[moneyontheleft, via Mike Norman Economics 1-2-21]
Desan argues that money is a constitutional project, countering the dubious “commodity” theory common to contemporary economic and legal orthodoxies. Desan develops her constitutional theory of money through rigorous historical examinations of money’s evolution, from medieval Anglo-Saxon communities to early-modern England to the American Revolution and beyond.
[Wall Street Journal, via The Big Picture 12-28-20]
What is wrong with American corporations? Elon Musk says too many M.B.A.s. are polluting companies’ ability to think creatively and give customers what they really want. His comments criticizing M.B.A.s came amid a broader conversation about leadership before an online audience, where he also encouraged executives to step away from their spreadsheets and get out of the boardroom and onto the factory floor.
Information Age Dystopia
[Ohio State Technology Law Center, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-28-20] “Software has also found its way into trials. Software’s errors have meant that defendants are often denied their fundamental rights. In this paper, we focus on “evidentiary software”— computer software used for producing evidence—that is routinely introduced in modern courtrooms. Whether from breathalyzers, computer forensic analysis, data taps, or even FitBits,5 computer code increasingly provides crucial trial evidence. Yet despite the central role software plays in convictions, computer code is often unavailable to examination by the defense. This may be for proprietary reasons—the vendor wishes to protect its confidential software—or it may result from a decision by the government to withhold the code for security reasons. Because computer software is far from infallible—software programs can create incorrect information, erase details, vary data depending on when and how they are accessed—or fail in a myriad of other ways—the only way that the accused can properly and fully defend himself is to have an ability to access the software that produced the evidence. Yet often the defendants are denied such critical access.” • Code is law!
Sam Harnett [SSRN, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21]
When companies like Uber and TaskRabbit appeared in Silicon Valley, there was a collective media swoon over these new app-based service-delivery corporations and their products. Pundits and journalists made it seem like these companies were ushering in not only an inevitable future, but a desirable one. Their content helped convince the public and regulators that these businesses were different from existing corporations—that they were startups with innovative technology platforms designed to disrupt established firms by efficiently connecting consumers to independent, empowered gig workers. Those in the media normalized and at times generated this rhetoric and framing, which was then taken up by politicians, amplified by academics, and finally enshrined in laws that legalized the business models of these companies. The positive, uncritical coverage prevailed for years and helped pave the way for a handful of companies that represent a tiny fraction of the economy to have an outsized impact on law, mainstream corporate practices, and the way we think about work. The force that powered the swoon was a relatively new and journalistically problematic trend in media: “tech” reporting.
[Kansas City Star, via The Big Picture 12-27-20]
Today we are telling the story of a powerful local business that has done wrong. For 140 years, it has been one of the most influential forces in shaping Kansas City and the region. And yet for much of its early history — through sins of both commission and omission — it disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations of Black Kansas Citians. It reinforced Jim Crow laws and redlining. Decade after early decade it robbed an entire community of opportunity, dignity, justice and recognition. That business is The Kansas City Star.
[ABC11, December 26, 2020]
Pallet shelters are roughly 8' by 8' cabins, initially designed for disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina. They are made to store flat and quickly assemble. But using them for homeless shelters was an idea from the employees of the Seattle-based company Pallet - many who had been homeless themselves.
"Our employees were the ones who said, 'This is amazing. This is exactly what's needed - this sort of temporary, stabilizing place where we can have shelter and keep our things and that's what was missing in our story,'" said Amy King, CEO of Pallet. Pallet shelters are intended for people who need temporary help. This community will serve as a stepping stone to permanent housing."It will be full wraparound services here," Brand said. "It won't just be a place to stay. They'll have counseling. They'll have a counselor specifically assigned to them."
With the relief bill squared away, the time is right to consider a question: Why didn’t the success of enhanced Unemployment Insurance ever enter the narrative as a success story?
On November 24 (Tuesday), the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) Research Center at the Korea Institute of Fusion Energy (KFE) announced that in a joint research with the Seoul National University (SNU) and Columbia University of the United States, it succeeded in continuous operation of plasma for 20 seconds with an ion-temperature higher than 100 million degrees, which is one of the core conditions of nuclear fusion in the 2020 KSTAR Plasma Campaign.
Biden hasn't even taken the oath of office, and the centrist crew, including Obama and Biden himself, are blaming the left for Democratic losses in the Senate, House and state legislatures, citing the activist call to "defund the police" as the primary reason for the party's poor down-ballot performance. There is no data to support this conclusion. If anything, the available evidence actually suggests that candidates with progressive positions outperformed the so-called moderates. Lack of evidence has never stopped the centrists before. Now they've reached a point where information is an unnecessary impediment to their effort to overwhelm all legitimate political or ideological debate with a mélange of platitudes and bromides.
David Sirota, December 31, 2020 [The Daily Poster].
“The day began with Sen. Bernie Sanders following through on his promise to deny unanimous consent for the Senate to advance a $740 billion defense authorization bill, until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allows an up-or-down vote on legislation that would send $2,000 survival checks to individuals making less than $75,000 and couples making less than $150,000. Sanders’ move forced McConnell to ask the Senate to pass a formal motion to proceed on the defense bill, which would let Republicans move forward on the Pentagon priority without a vote on the $2,000 checks. The motion created the moment in which Democrats could have stood their ground and cornered the GOP leader. Instead, as Republicans saber rattled about the need to pass the defense bill, 41 Democrats obediently voted with McConnell, allowing him to move the defense bill forward without a vote on the checks. That included “yes” votes from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and vice-president elect Kamala Harris, the lead sponsor on a bill to give Americans monthly $2,000 checks during the pandemic. One day before her vote to help McConnell, Harris had called on the Republican leader to hold a vote on her legislation. Only six members of the Senate Democratic Caucus mustered the courage to vote against McConnell’s maneuver — Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Chris Van Hollen, Jeff Merkley, Ed Markey and Ron Wyden. Democratic senators in fact provided the majority of the votes for the measure that lets the defense bill proceed without a vote on the $2,000 checks. It was called a motion to proceed, but it really was a motion demanding Democrats concede — and they instantly obliged.”
Glenn Greenwald [via Naked Capitalism 12-29-20]
In 2020 alone, Trump had two perfectly crafted opportunities to seize authoritarian power — a global health pandemic and sprawling protests and sustained riots throughout American cities — and yet did virtually nothing to exploit those opportunities. Actual would-be despots such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán quickly seized on the virus to declare martial law, while even prior U.S. presidents, to say nothing of foreign tyrants, have used the pretext of much less civil unrest than what we saw this summer to deploy the military in the streets to pacify their own citizenry….
The hysterical Trump-as-despot script was all melodrama, a ploy for profits and ratings, and, most of all, a potent instrument to distract from the neoliberal ideology that gave rise to Trump in the first place by causing so much wreckage. Positing Trump as a grand aberration from U.S. politics and as the prime author of America’s woes — rather than what he was: a perfectly predictable extension of U.S politics and a symptom of preexisting pathologies — enabled those who have so much blood and economic destruction on their hands not only to evade responsibility for what they did, but to rehabilitate themselves as the guardians of freedom and prosperity and, ultimately, catapult themselves back into power. As of January 20, that is exactly where they will reside.…
The dominant strain of U.S. neoliberalism — the ruling coalition that has now consolidated power again — is authoritarianism. They view those who oppose them and reject their pieties not as adversaries to be engaged but as enemies, domestic terrorists, bigots, extremists and violence-inciters to be fired, censored, and silenced. And they have on their side — beyond the bulk of the corporate media, and the intelligence community, and Wall Street — an unprecedentedly powerful consortium of tech monopolies willing and able to exert greater control over a population that has rarely, if ever, been so divided, drained, deprived and anemic.
All of these authoritarian powers will, ironically, be invoked and justified in the name of stopping authoritarianism — not from those who wield power but from the movement that was just removed from power. Those who spent four years shrieking to great profit about the dangers of lurking “fascism” will — without realizing the irony — now use this merger of state and corporate power to consolidate their own authority, control the contours of permissible debate, and silence those who challenge them even further. Those most vocally screaming about growing authoritarianism in the U.S. over the last four years were very right in their core warning, but very wrong about the real source of that danger.
Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan [Capital as Power, via Naked Capitalism 12-30-20]
According to the theory of capital as power (or CasP for short), the quest for capitalized power – and for more and more of it – is the key driving force of modern capitalism. Capitalists, CasP argues, particularly dominant ones, judge their power differentially. They measure it by the size of their earnings and assets – but they do so not absolutely, but relative to others. Driven by power, their goal is not simply to amass more money, but to do so faster than the average. Their ‘bottom line’ is not maximum accumulation, but differential accumulation….
And here lies the problem. Dominant capitalists and corporations cannot stop trying to increase their power. The need to beat the average and grow faster than others is ‘in their nature’. And that has consequences, because rising differential earnings require greater threats, sabotage and violence against the rest of society. If this relentless pressure is not counteracted by effective democratic resistance, U.S. subjects are likely hear much more about the benefits of ‘economies of scale’, the imperatives of ‘global competition’ and the dictates of ‘national security’ – processes that, they will be told, require them to accept ever larger corporations and a much more authoritarian society.
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-20]
“So I think, ultimately, what we need to be doing is figuring out ways where we can communicate directly with the public, with new constituencies and try to sell a new way of thinking about the world and about politics to them. That’s an organizational effort but, abstractly, it’s a creative project. And I think that we can learn from the conservative movements in that this is essentially the project that they themselves took up after Goldwater lost. They built all of these apparatuses, they built media organizations, they built think tanks, they built all kinds of things that were aimed at communicating directly with the public outside of the Republican Party that then came to bear on Republican Party politics.”
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 12-28-20]
[White Hot Harlots, via Naked Capitalism 12-27-20]
The only political effect of this normalization of dishonesty has been the ascendance of the most reactionary faction of the Democrat party. A left that had not been trained to hate itself would not have voted for Joe Biden.
This is what happens when a movement places zero value upon honesty and decency. When all conflict becomes understood as abuse, when all criticism is regarded as violence, the most sociopathic and violent members of a community are the ones who get to set the agenda. No one can push back. No one can dissent. The demand for absolute uniformity cripples the movement’s ability to accomplish anything beyond enriching a handful of the very worst people on earth.
[The Spectator, via The Big Picture 12-27-20]
A layperson’s version of the pernicious philosophy I mentioned earlier is the familiar bleat of: ‘Well it may not be true for you but it is true for me.’ No, it’s either true or it isn’t. For both of us. As somebody once said (authorship multiply attributed), you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.
A more insidious threat to truth comes from certain schools of academic philosophy. There is no objective truth, they say, no natural reality, only social constructs. Extreme exponents attack logic and reason themselves, as tools of manipulation or ‘patriarchal’ weapons of domination. The philosopher and historian of science Noretta Koertge wrote this in Skeptical Inquirer magazine in 1995, and things haven’t got any better since:“Instead of exhorting young women to prepare for a variety of technical subjects by studying science, logic, and mathematics, Women’s Studies students are now being taught that logic is a tool of domination…the standard norms and methods of scientific inquiry are sexist because they are incompatible with ‘women’s ways of knowing’. The authors of the prize-winning book with this title report that the majority of the women they interviewed fell into the category of ‘subjective knowers’, characterised by a ‘passionate rejection of science and scientists’. These ‘subjectivist’ women see the methods of logic, analysis and abstraction as ‘alien territory belonging to men’ and ‘value intuition as a safer and more fruitful approach to truth’….If your philosophy dismisses all that as patriarchal domination, so much the worse for your philosophy. Perhaps you should stay away from doctors with their experimentally tested medicines, and go to a shaman or witch doctor instead. If you need to travel to a conference of like-minded philosophers, you’d better not go by air. Planes fly because a lot of scientifically trained mathematicians and engineers got their sums right. They did not use ‘intuitive ways of knowing’. Whether they happened to be white and male or sky-blue-pink and hermaphrodite is supremely, triumphantly irrelevant.
[The Evolution Institute, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-30-20]
“And evolutionary science can upgrade the old “society is an organism” metaphor invoked by great thinkers such as Hobbes and Aristotle. Today we know that human societies truly can qualify as organisms in the benign sense of cooperative wholes that are more than the sum of their parts (UNIONS) and that nurture their parts—but only under special conditions. Difficult? Of course. Possible? Yes, with the right toolkit. These short essays will lay out the history, principles, and applications of Socialist Darwinism’s toolkit. The Federalist Papers argued for the creation of a more perfect UNION based on Enlightenment values that predated Darwin. Here we add 200+ years of scientifically refined thought…. Socialist Darwinism is the idea that natural selection promotes societies that cooperate as moral communities. This concept actually predates Social Darwinism, which later emphasized competition and individualism. Socialists throughout the 1860s-70s praised Darwin’s theory as promoting progressive social change.” • Interesting. There seems also be a mini-trend of recuperating ideas and thinkers from the pre-Populist and Populist era, possibly sparked by The People, No.
[Unherd, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21]
For a year filled with fear and uncertainty, as plague collided with the final eruptions of the Trump era, the political lessons of 2020 are uncannily clear. Elite institutional authority is everywhere collapsing in a bonfire of self-immolation even as elite institutions become ever more powerful…. The compound effect was a cleavage in which half the country now rejects the legitimacy of America’s nominally non-political institutions….
The first important lesson from the past year is that this revolt against the experts is not a fringe phenomenon driven by QAnon loons, hysterical anti-vaxxers and other untouchables. It is widespread and its consequences are already profound. On the surface, people are simply rejecting the authority of institutions…
But beneath that rejection, there is a cultural shift at the level of animating beliefs.
For millions of people, a disenchantment has broken the spell which upheld their faith in rational, scientific knowledge as the best means to tame the natural chaos of reality and administer the business of society. On top of all the other disenchantments undermining America’s founding myths, this one erodes the foundation on which the entire technocratic regime of modern society rests….
...the second lesson of 2020: far from losing status after the repeated errors and deceptions of the past year, America’s institutional elite is more powerful than ever…. If you are one of the people or organisations which repeatedly got the coronavirus wrong, abetted wanton political violence and destruction, or once again misread the American electorate, odds are very good that your funding streams, political influence, institutional power and leverage over your fellow Americans are going increase over the next four years of the Biden administration….
The political elites of both parties are ending the year on top. The Democratic leadership defeated the populist threat from Bernie Sanders and now has one of its own, Joe Biden, leading the country. The Republican leadership has its own reasons to be happy about a Biden White House. The GOP got very comfortable adopting the symbolism of Trumpism while blocking White House policies like stimulus spending and ending the war in Afghanistan. With Trump out of office, Republicans can drop the balancing act and go back to satisfying the party’s donor base with cheap labour, austerity policies, foreign military adventures and the distraction of permanent culture war.
Underwriting the growing power of this interconnected media-administrative-political elite is the new American oligarchy led by Silicon Valley…. But with government stimulus spending facilitating an immense upward transfer of wealth, the top tier of corporate profits has soared along with the stock market.
“The tactics that helped many corporate titans thrive — laying off thousands of workers, going deep into debt, and grabbing market share from struggling competitors — will shape the recovery for months, if not years,” the Wall Street Journal reported in December…. The spillover from that record-setting cash grab will go directly to subsidising the failing elite institutions and expert bodies that are cutting off the oxygen to American society. But the crucial question is why elite institutions that are so error prone, and so untrustworthy, don’t suffer for their repeated failings….
Regime loyalty is the herd immunity of the ruling class, a protection against the consequences of their own failures. This is why the loss in authority that manifests in the “crisis of experts”, while real, doesn’t diminish their power. But it’s also why the regime has to become more ideological and nakedly coercive — for a kingdom of experts without reliable expertise falls back on propaganda and state power.
America’s Asian Allies Need Their Own Nukes [Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-21]
A Sign the ESG Movement Is Too Big to Ignore: There’s Backlash In the waning days of the Trump administration, several agencies are pushing back on the notion that corporations should prioritize anything other than profits. (Businessweek, via The Big Picture 12-28-20]
China launches ‘gray-zone’ warfare to subdue Taiwan Having crushed the resistance to its rule in Hong Kong, China is moving against Taiwan with irregular tactics meant to exhaust the island’s military – which is in bad shape to confront the threat. It’s unclear how the incoming Biden administration will respond. [Reuters, via The Big Picture 12-27-20]