Strategic Political Economy
“The Free Market is Dead: What Will Replace It?”
[Chris Hughes, Time, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-27-21]
Significant because it’s Time, of all places.
But corporate America’s newfound support for more public investment is not a temporary phenomenon. We are witnessing the most profound realignment in American political economy in nearly forty years. President Ronald Reagan summed up the conventional wisdom that reigned from the mid-1970s onward in the United States: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” Economists, policymakers, and everyday Americans alike generally accepted that markets, unfettered and free, are the best way to create economic growth…. That ideology began to crack after the Great Recession, and in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it has collapsed. The rise of ethno-nationalism on the right and democratic socialism on the left testify to the growing disillusionment with the conventional wisdom of how government and economics are supposed to work. It’s not just the fringes questioning free market orthodoxy in a time of disease. Cross-partisan supermajorities of Americans want some of the biggest companies of America to be broken up, significantly higher minimum wages, a wealth tax on billionaires, and believe significantly more public investment is required to create economic growth. We have had regulations, public investment, and macroeconomic management to varying degrees throughout American history. What makes this moment different is that Americans across parties, class, and educational background are using a new framework to think about how we create prosperity.”
“What’s behind the growth slump? Takeaways from census data”
[Associated Press, via The Big Picture 4-28-2021]
“The U.S. population grew to 331 million, a 7.4% growth rate from the last time the Census Bureau counted every person in the country, in 2010. Those may sound like big numbers, but it’s actually the second slowest rate of population growth the census has ever recorded, just behind the 7.3% growth in the 1930s. That decade’s slowed growth was rooted in the Great Depression. Our past decade’s sluggish rate had similar beginnings in the long shadow of the Great Recession. The drawn-out recovery saw many young adults struggling to enter the job market, delaying marriage and starting a family. That dealt a blow to the nation’s birthrate. Then the pandemic hit last year and made matters worse. But while U.S. population growth recovered after the Great Depression, demographers are not optimistic it will pick up anytime soon. Most forecast even slower population growth in the decades to come. Americans are getting older — the median age in the U.S. is 38, up one year from 37 in 2010. Immigration had been dropping even before the pandemic effectively shut it down. And many Republicans have largely turned against the idea of immigration, legal or illegal, a new political barrier to the country adding more population quickly. ‘Unlike the Great Depression, it’s part of a process where we’re likely to keep having slow growth,’ said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. That has potentially grim consequences for the nation’s future.”
“...we’re likely to keep having slow growth...” Why? Just because population growth slows down? What most people do not realize is that a transition to an economy free of fossil fuel dependencies — if done in time to meet the challenges of climate change — will require some of the fastest economic growth in recorded human history. What do you think it’s going to look like as we replace the 1.5 billion motor vehicles in the world with electric vehicles? Do you want to do that over 30 or 10 years, or over the next ten? Or sooner? In fact, the faster the growth, the faster will we be changing the economy to meet the challenge of climate change. Frey is obviously stuck in a old paradigm of economic thinking. A huge challenge is going to be to managing world-wide economic growth rates of ten to fifteen percent for about 15 or 20 years, then transitioning to near zero-growth rates after the world’s economy and transportation systems have been rebuilt on a carbon free basis.
How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 5-1-2021]
During the century since the end of the Great Influenza outbreak, the average human life span has doubled. There are few measures of human progress more astonishing than this. If you were to publish a newspaper that came out just once a century, the banner headline surely would — or should — be the declaration of this incredible feat. But of course, the story of our extra life span almost never appears on the front page of our actual daily newspapers, because the drama and heroism that have given us those additional years are far more evident in hindsight than they are in the moment. That is, the story of our extra life is a story of progress in its usual form: brilliant ideas and collaborations unfolding far from the spotlight of public attention, setting in motion incremental improvements that take decades to display their true magnitude.
The development of clean water supplies, and advances in medicine and medical care get most of the attention, with very welcome focus on the scientists, researchers, and engineers who are mostly excluded from economic histories. But I think a much better article could be written, that would include some of the more mundane but hugely significant stories, such as how mass production of textiles and clothes made living conditions much more sanitary for billions of people, or how mass production of glass and plastic containers enabled cheap and dependable distribution of medicines and vaccines. And the story of clean water supplies should focus on the crucial role of collective actions overseen by governments, such as the aqueducts built by Rome.
The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time
Harold Meyerson, April 29, 2021 [The American Prospect]
In his first address to Congress, as in his first 100 days, he led with proposals for fundamental change, but particularly with proposals so popular that they’re hard to oppose. In the Republican response to Biden’s speech, South Carolina Sen. Tm Scott skipped lightly and quickly through his critique of Biden’s proposals for infrastructure, family assistance and access to health care, and he was in such a rush because Republicans know that Biden’s case is compelling. Like his fellow GOPers, Scott spent much more time on racial, religious and cultural wedge issues, proclaiming that America is not a racist nation, but rather one with Christianity and opposition to abortion at its core. This came after Biden had just presented the closest thing to a social democratic manifesto that any American president has ever delivered. But it’s precisely the social democratic aspects of Biden’s agenda that win the greatest popular support, including a quarter to a third of rank-and-file Republicans. So long as the debate focuses on the lived experience of the American people, Republicans don’t have much to say….
Biden’s is an argument with potentially wide political appeal. In one sense, it’s an appeal to a sane American nationalism. Unlike any previous president since the current era of financial globalization began, he states that the past 40 years of government acquiescence in and even encouragement of corporate flight and offshore investment has proven to be a national disaster, and he puts forth policies that would reverse that dynamic. In another sense, it’s an appeal to the nation’s commitment to democracy, recognizing that the rising challenge to the nation isn’t simply coming from other countries, but from autocracy itself, from the claims that autocracy provides a better path to progress than democracy does. If there is such a thing as Bidenism, it is this, a one-two punch aimed at financial globalism and oppressive autocracy, an affirmation of the value of both an egalitarian national interest and liberal democracy….
My own thinking on Biden at this time is that he is doing far more than I ever expected. I think what is driving Biden here is his witnessing of the failures of Obama up close — particularly the failure to understand the hatred and hostility underlying the intransigent opposition of the conservatives / libertarians / Republicans and the selfishly base motivations for their culture wars. Biden may not be challenging the corporatist neoliberal status quo because he has suddenly come to dislike it, but I will take what he’s offering so far. It’s far from perfect — for example, there’s nothing really good about Biden’s plans for health care since Biden defers entirely to the health insurance industry — but it is more and in many ways better than expected.
Put another way, Biden is striving to be bolder and bigger-thinking than Obama was. This motivation to rule is not among those considered by marxists, socialists, conservatives, and libertarians, so it is entirely outside the understanding of most people minding politics today. But it was fully understood by the founders, who carefully studied previous examples of civic republicanism. John Adams wrote, “A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.” In The Federalist Papers No, 72, Alexander Hamilton wrote about “the inducements to good behavior,” observing that “the desire of reward is one of the strongest incentives of human conduct.”
Even the love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds, which would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit, requiring considerable time to mature and perfect them, if he could flatter himself with the prospect of being allowed to finish what he had begun….
Note that under capitalism, these more noble motivations of human conduct receive no consideration or reward whatsover. There’s only the profit motive. "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" As I have written before, and shall continue to write, one of the great tragedies of American history is that we have allowed liberal capitalism to supplant civic republicanism as the primary driver of governance.
Progressives today were prepared to force Biden to respond like FDR advised a group of progressives: “now make me do it.” I sense that Biden’s attempt to move way past Obama has confounded them. I think we should take it for what it is, retarget our efforts, and begin to concentrate fire on the recalcitrants in the Democratic Party such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Clearly, we have to “make them do it.” As David Dayen writes his review of Biden’s American Families Plan:
“I’ve never in my political lifetime been more optimistic about the stated priorities of the upper echelons of the government, and I’ve never been more pessimistic about the prospects of actually getting them into law.”
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
“In Jackson, Mississippi, You Can Go Into Debt Trying To Take A Shower”
[Buzzfeed, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-27-21]
“In February, freezing temperatures knocked out power and water across the Southeast, leaving millions of people scrambling to stay warm and unable to access basic supplies for days. But in Jackson, most of the city’s 160,000 residents, 82% of whom are Black, were without safe, reliable water for more than a month. It marked the latest chapter in years of issues with a brittle and decaying water system, and highlights the deep vulnerability of aging infrastructure — a problem from Flint, Michigan, to Sandbranch, Texas, and Newark, New Jersey — as extreme weather becomes more routine with climate change….. People working in shops and restaurants lost entire paychecks when their workplaces closed due to lack of water. Kids couldn’t go to school or daycare, so parents had to shell out extra money for food and babysitters. They had to divert money away from rent or other bills to buy bottled water and cover the costs associated with being unable to bathe, do laundry, or cook in their own homes….The water is flowing again in Jackson. But for Robinson and others who are barely getting by, the empty taps left debt and new worries about the future. Years of neglect of the water system had already brought poor service and outrageous bills. In the face of a changing climate, the problems can only get worse, and so far, residents have had to pay the price.”
Neoliberalism requires a police state
Chevron’s Prisoner: Steven Donziger
[The Daily Poster, April 28, 2021]
On Tuesday, six progressive House lawmakers — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Jim McGovern, Jamie Raskin, and Rashida Tlaib — sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting he review Donziger’s case.
The letter is the latest in a series of pleas to the Department of Justice. Earlier this month, Donziger’s legal team sent another letter to Garland requesting his office remove the case from the private prosecutors and drop the charges. And in February, 13 international human rights and environmental organizations, including Amnesty International and Amazon Watch, sent a letter to Garland demanding he review the case and decrying “a state of affairs widely viewed by the international human rights and environmental community as one of the most serious ongoing human rights abuses for which the United States has yet to answer.”
That same month, hundreds of law students from 52 schools across the country announced a recruiting boycott of Seward & Kissel over its prosecution of Donziger despite “conflicts of interest.”
Restoring balance to the economy
“The safety net program Congress forgot”
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-26-2021]
“SI’s archaic income rules — which were put in place to allow beneficiaries to supplement their modest monthly benefits with additional income if they’re able to do so — have never been updated since the program’s establishment in 1974. These limits are stuck at $65 per month for earned income and $20 for “unearned” income. For very-low-income seniors and disabled people who receive a small amount from Social Security in addition to SSI, so-called “unearned” income includes their Social Security benefits. These paltry “income disregards” have lost virtually all of their value due to inflation over the years, shrinking already meager monthly benefits even further. Further pushing already-struggling beneficiaries even deeper into poverty is a mean-spirited rule called “in-kind support and maintenance,” which targets beneficiaries who are lucky enough to receive help from loved ones with meeting their basic needs. A bag of groceries to help ensure you’ve got food to last through the month or a place to stay to help get you off the street can trigger a one-third reduction in SSI’s already sub-poverty-level benefits. Along with economic security, marriage equality is out of reach for SSI beneficiaries too. The program’s rigid marriage penalties reduce benefits by one-quarter for SSI beneficiaries who marry another SSI beneficiary, and can lead to outright loss of benefits for those who marry someone not receiving SSI. Imagine not being able to marry the person you love for fear of losing survival income. During the campaign, President Biden pledged to right these wrongs, committing that people with disabilities and seniors should never have to live in poverty in America. His historic disability policy platform spoke to each of these shameful policy failures. Biden committed to raise SSI benefits to the federal poverty level; update outdated asset limits and income rules; eliminate the cruel in-kind support and maintenance rule; and abolish SSI’s marriage penalties. Now a coalition of House and Senate Democrats are urging Biden to make good on his promises to the 8 million disabled and elderly SSI beneficiaries. They are calling on him to include these long-overdue SSI updates in the American Family Plan, to finally bring the decades of shameful neglect of this critical program to an end.” • We’ll see. That’s a lot of lovely means-testing to get rid of, though.
Making the Top 1% Its Own Tax Class
Barry Ritholtz [The Big Picture, April 27, 2021]
Ritholtz correctly predicted a key feature of Biden’s proposed tax reform.
I interpret the proposal as being motivated as follows: This admin believes the top1% has enjoyed outsized benefits for decades, while the bottom 50, 75, even 90%? Have fallen behind. Hence, to pay for the badly needed upgrade, the top1% are going to have to pay for more capital gains taxes.
Rich Americans Face Biden Tax Hike With Anger, Denial and Grief
[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 4-27-2021]
Pressure has been building to raise levies on the wealthy after decades of tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the top 1%. Politicians at the national and state levels have recently proposed or passed higher rates, but the measures were largely focused on income taxes.
The rich produce only more rich, not anything really useful:
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-30-2021]
That means that markets produce aristocracies, entrusting capital allocation to the wealthy, rather than the "deserving" (that is, people doing things that make the world better off).
Markets are only incidentally systems for allocating capital to people who do stuff. Mostly they are systems for allocating capital to people who already have capital.
A free People are kept so by no other Means than an equal Distribution of Property; every Man who has a Share of Property having a proportionable Share of Power; and the first Seeds of Anarchy, which for the most part ends in Tyranny, are produced from hence, that some are ungovernably rich, and many more are miserably poor; that is some are Masters of all Means of Oppression, and others want all the Means of Self-defence.
“How Austerity Destroyed the Public Good”
[Adolph Reed, The New Republic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-30-21]
“The cycle of strategic pillaging of public goods that produced the Katrina disaster is by now well documented: Free-market ideologues neglect the public welfare for decades; they then privatize and starve out funding for public goods and services; and finally point to the resulting shortfalls in public-sector performance created by their handiwork as a rationale for cutting funding and neglecting these critical services and infrastructures even more…. The yearlong-and-counting Covid catastrophe bears similarly painful witness to the entirely predictable results of four decades’ worth of leaders blatantly and cynically discrediting government while also hollowing out the country’s social and physical infrastructure—very much including the anemic public health systems that prolonged and worsened the pandemic’s course…. The orchestrated mass forgetting of the idea of the public good reinforces the broader suspicion of government as a knee-jerk principle. And this distrust in turn ratchets up rampant vulnerability to the frighteningly solipsistic—if not nihilistic—notion of “rights” as unqualified individual entitlement expressed in anti-masking propaganda and gun rights absolutism. The long-running atrophy of the public good as a framework for governance also creates an enormous opening for malevolent conspiracy theories that at least offer internally consistent accounts of the sources of people’s anxieties and concerns and promise to resolve them—even if through a mass purge of the political opposition or an apocalyptic reckoning. That, indeed, is the big punch line here. The neoliberal regime of intensifying economic inequality may be exhausting its capacities—in this country and elsewhere—for delivering sufficient benefits to enough of the population to sustain a nominally democratic order.”
The Lumber and Chip Shortages Have the Same Root Cause: Underinvestment
[Barron’s, via The Big Picture 4-29-2021]
Perhaps no manufactured good is less technologically sophisticated than a 2×4, while none is more complex than the latest microprocessors. Yet the U.S. economy is currently suffering from shortages of both lumber and chips—and for similar reasons. In both cases, today’s shortages are the legacy of past busts, which then led to years of underinvestment that has left producers unable to respond to sudden surges in demand.
And, underinvestment and COVID:
Over 100 Drug Lobbyists Working to Block Generic Covid-19 Vaccines
[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2021]
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2021]
The problem with worldwide COVID vaccine access is not the patents: the vaccines have all been sequenced, the exact contents are on freaking GitHub and have been forever. I know Moderna has waived their patent for sure; I think several others have too. The issue is manufacturing.
Information Age Dystopia
The internet is breaking. Here’s how to save it.
Dan Kaminksy [Cyberscoop, via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2021]
“Facebook allows advertisers to target children interested in smoking, alcohol and weight loss”
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-28-21]
“Facebook is allowing businesses to advertise to children as young as 13 who express an interest in smoking, extreme weight loss and gambling for as little as $3, research by the lobby group Reset Australia has found. The organisation, which is critical of digital platforms, set up a Facebook page and advertising account under the name “Ozzie news network” to see what ad options Facebook would provide through its Ads Manager platform. While Facebook will not allow the advertising of alcohol and other age-inappropriate content to people under 18, it does not prevent advertisers from targeting children determined by Facebook’s profile to have an interest in alcohol, for advertising that might not appear explicitly to be about those topics. Facebook offered the page the ability to advertise to approximately 740,000 Australian children aged between 13 and 17, but then when the group refined the advertising by interest, found that, just as for those aged over 18, they were able to advertise to teens under 18 with interests in alcohol, smoking and vaping, gambling, extreme weight loss, fast foods and online dating services.”
“CEO of $2B company pushed out for taking LSD before meeting”
“On Monday, a company ousted its chief executive officer and co-founder because he used LSD in 2019. Justin Zhu was experimenting with drugs to boost his focus, but the illegal drug goes against marketing startup Iterable Inc.’s company policy, which resulted in him being kicked out…. Based in San Francisco and created in 2013, Iterable Inc. is a mobile-optimized email marketing solution that enables marketers to test and send personalized emails optimized for mobile without coding, Bloomberg reported.”
I love Lambert Strether’s comment: “I love the idea that our mobile infrastructure was designed by CEOs tripping on acid. It explains a lot.”
Collapse of Independent News Media
“The Mass Media Will Never Regain The Public’s Trust”
[Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-26-2021]
“This year has marked the first time ever that trust in news media dropped below fifty percent in the United States, continuing a trend of decline that’s been ongoing for years. Mass media punditry is divided on where to assign the blame for the plummet in public opinion of their work… The one thing they all seem to agree on is that it’s definitely not because the billionaire-controlled media are propaganda outlets which manipulate us constantly in conjunction with sociopathic government agencies to protect the oligarchic, imperialist status quo upon which the members of the billionaire class have built their respective kingdoms. It cannot possibly be because people sense that they are being lied to and are fed up with it.”
“Disney’s writer wage-theft is far worse than reported”
Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-30-21]
“Disney argued that when they bought out Lucas, Fox, etc, they acquired their assets, but not their liabilities. In other words, they’d acquired the right to sell Foster’s work, but not the obligation to pay him when they did. This is not how copyright contracts work, period. If it were, then any publisher with a runaway bestseller novel could incorporate a new company, sell its assets – but not its liabilities – to that company, and stiff the writer. Both Foster’s agent and the Science Fiction Writers of America tried to negotiate with Disney quietly on this, but they were stonewalled and insulted (Disney insisted that they wouldn’t even discuss a deal without first getting nondisclosure agreements from Foster, another unheard-of tactic). After failing to make progress with private negotiations, they went loudly public, launching the #DisneyMustPay campaign. The good news is, the campaign was successful, and Foster has been paid. The bad news is that the campaign flushed out many writers who are also having their wages stolen by Disney. The company is stalling them, too – refusing to search its records or volunteer info unless the authors can name the specific instances in which they’ve been robbed.” And: “They have a form where writers who suspect that Disney has stolen their wages can report it, anonymously: https://airtable.com/shrE1hJbqMHsjP9Ll.”
There should be a way to charge Disney and other corporate executives with the crime of theft. Treat them like the perps they are.
Disrupting mainstream economics
The Woman Who Shattered the Myth of the Free Market
[New York Times, via The Big Picture 4-26-2021]
Joan Robinson upended the misogynistic good-old-boys’ network of economists and devised theories around competition and labor vital to the antitrust debates of today….
Robinson turned Marshall’s framework on its head. Competition, she argued in her landmark 1933 book, “The Economics of Imperfect Competition,” wasn’t an on-off switch between pure monopoly and pure competition. A competitive market was not the normal state of affairs — it was a rare “special case.” Markets typically reached a state of “equilibrium” in which Marshall’s progressive improvements halted while exhibiting many of the flaws of a monopoly regime….
Crucially, Robinson argued that workers, as sellers of their own labor, almost always faced monopsonistic exploitation from employers, the buyers of their labor. This technical point had a political edge: According to Robinson, workers were being chronically underpaid, even by the standards of fairness devised by the high priests of the free market.
Bill Mitchell — The Cambridge Controversy – a fundamental refutation of orthodox economic theory – Part 1
[Bill Mitchell – billy blog, via Mike Norman Economics 4-27-21]
Some years ago, I promised to write about the – Cambridge capital controversy – which saw economists associated with Cambridge University in England and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts argue about the validity of neoclassical distribution theory. I never wrote the blog posts because I considered the material was a little difficult for a blog audience. Also, while of great interest to me, the topic was not necessarily compulsory reading for those trying to come to terms with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). But today, I relent. For two reasons. First, I think my readership has reached much higher levels of economic literacy over the last 15 years and can handle a challenge. But, more importantly, there are times when the mainstream characters, who have been claiming that there is nothing new in MMT and that they knew it all along and all the important results can be explained within an orthodox New Keynesian approach, reveal their true colours. Their hubris sees them get ahead of themselves and they show they never really understood the basics that undermine their own approach. Such was the case this week when Paul Krugman declared the Controversy “a huge intellectual muddle” and “a tortured debate that illuminated nothing much”. Well, that just goes to show how the mainstream denial functions. A body of work comes along and blows the dominant paradigm out of the water, and the response is to ignore it as a meaningless muddle. Their current attacks on MMT are just another application of that approach, which I first encountered as a student while studying the capital debates. Given the complexity of this issue and the amount of material, this will be a two-part series. Today, we learn the historical context, which will convince you that this was not idle or arcane discussion. This was a debate that went to the heart of the existence of capitalism and the defenders of that system – the mainstream economists did everything they could to defend the myths that they had erected to make the system look fair. They failed but went on anyway. Here is Part 1....
Bill Mitchell — The Cambridge Controversy – a fundamental refutation of orthodox economic theory – Part 2
[Bill Mitchell – billy blog, via Mike Norman Economics 4-28-21]
This is Part 2 in a two part series that deals with the importance of the Cambridge capital controversy – which saw economists associated with Cambridge University in England and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts argue about the validity of neoclassical distribution theory. Most recently, in response to a New York Times article about Joan Robinson, one of the key protagonists in that controversy, Paul Krugman declared the Controversy “a huge intellectual muddle” which was really unimportant in the scheme of things. That just revealed his ignorance and/or his part in an on-going denial that the basis of the framework he operates in is deeply flawed and has no scientific legitimacy. In this Part, we get down to the complexity (as best I can without becoming too technical) of the debates. The import though is clear – orthodox economics, which is still taught on a daily basis in our universities and which people like Krugman use to make money by writing textbooks about is based on a series of myths that cannot be sustained, both logically, in terms of their own internal consistency, and, in relation to saying anything about the real world we live in....
Is Biden Accidentally Giving the Green Light to Mega-Mergers?
Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 4-30-2021]
Why Do Economists Ignore the Greatest of All Market Failures?
Brad DeLong [Grasping Reality, via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2021]
“These Chicago Boys are all right-wing Marxists,” he said:
They buy the Marxian proposition that the state is an executive committee for rigging the economy in the interest of the ruling class. But they think that that is a good thing as long as the ruling class is based on wealth, however previously acquired. All their objections are to those who use some form of societal power other than wealth to try to rig the economy in their interest. And while there is an argument that a wealth-based ruling class is in general best, it is a weak argument.
Climate and environmental crises
“As the Caspian Sea Disappears, Life Goes on for Those Living by Its Shores”
[The Moscow Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-30-21]
“According to a series of recent studies, the Caspian — the world’s largest inland body of water — is rapidly drying up as climate change sends temperatures in the region soaring. Having already fallen by several meters since its mid-1990s peak, the Caspian’s retreat represents a major threat to fragile ecosystems with hundreds of endemic species, and to huge areas of arid inner Asia where human life has always depended on the sea…. In 1996, however, the tide turned. That year, a sustained and rapid decline in the Caspian Sea level began, continuing up to the present day… While previous Caspian fluctuations were driven by unpredictable combinations of human and environmental factors, this decline — which has been accompanied by record high temperatures in landlocked inner Asia — has a more straightforward cause, say scientists. ‘This time, it’s about climate change,’ said Eldar Eldarov, a geography professor at Dagestan State University.”
Warning of Threat to 'Humanity and the Natural World,' Hawaii State Legislature Becomes First in US to Declare Climate Emergency
[Common Dreams, via Mike Norman Economics 4-30-21]
Creating new economic potential - science and technology
Joanne Chory is using plants to save the planet
[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 4-30-2021]
In the Breakthrough Prize video, Chory laid out a vision for a new kind of agriculture: She wanted to create crops like wheat or rice that are bred to store huge amounts of carbon in their roots. If enough farmers replanted their fields with these engineered species, she said, they could pull as much as 20% of carbon dioxide emitted by humans out of the atmosphere each year.
‘Insanely cheap energy’: how solar power continues to shock the world
[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 4-27-2021]
Australian smarts and Chinese industrial might made solar power the cheapest power humanity has seen – and no one saw it coming
Disrupting mainstream politics
“Congress Eager to Increase Staff Pay But Fear Voter Backlash”
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-28-21]
Lambert Strether convincingly argues: “Do it. After the State of Maine stupidly gutted the Legislature’s institutional memory with term limits, the only people who knew what the laws meant were the lobbyists.”
Why Some Black Democrats Haven’t Embraced a Voting Rights Push
[New York Times, April 26, 2021]
Predatory — and Criminal — Finance
“Six Questions for Gerald Horne About His New Book, The Bittersweet Science: Racism, Racketeering, and the Political Economy of Boxing”
Gerald Horne [Washington Babylon, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2021]
Horne: “Inexorably racketeering takes root in a nation based on mass enslavement of Africans–often ensnared by proto-gangsters–and mass expropriation of the indigenous (likewise). As I have written in my book on ‘Jazz’ and others on Hollywood, in the U.S. and elsewhere, organized crime is attracted to ‘business’ that throws off cash proceeds, which facilitates money laundering. It is also a kind of primitive accumulation of capital–ala the slave trade. And, yes, this generates corruption of various sorts. As I state in the book, if you compare Ali to Bob Foster, yet another talented boxer who fought for peanuts, it is evident that boxers felt they needed ‘backup’ and, yes, the presence of the Nation, especially the Fruit of Islam, served as a deterrent to traditional racketeering. Of course, my book on Watts details how the Nation filled an ideological vacuum created by the Red Scare and the persecution of figures like Robeson (see my book on him).”
Dirty Dollars: Accused money launderers left a path of bankrupt factories, unpaid taxes, shuttered buildings and hundreds of steelworkers out of jobs
[Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, via The Big Picture 4-25-2021]
Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War
[The Atlantic, April 27, 2021]
Last night, a viral tweet claimed that Fox News’s Tucker Carlson had told his audience to harass people on the street wearing masks—and to “call the police immediately; contact child protective services” if they saw a child wearing one. Surely, this couldn’t be a fair description; naturally, it was. Having spent the early part of the month espousing the white-supremacist “great replacement theory,” Carlson is now seeking to use the power of the state to harass and immiserate his political opponents:
[Twitter, via The Atlantic, April 27, 2021]
“The United States is at risk of an armed anti-police insurgency”
[The Conversation, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-26-2021]
“I am beginning to observe in the U.S. some of the social conditions necessary for the maturation and rise of an armed insurgency. The U.S. is at risk of armed insurgencies within the next five years if the current wave of killings of unarmed Black people continues….. Entities operating independently will spring up, but over time, a loose coalition may form to take credit for actions of organizationally disparate groups for maximum effect. There will likely be no single leader to neutralize at the onset…. There is another, related variable: The availability of people willing and able to participate in such insurgency. The U.S. has potential candidates in abundance. Criminal records — sometimes for relatively minor offences — that mar Black males for life, have taken care of this critical supply. …. Some of these men may gradually be reaching the point where they believe they have nothing to lose. …. Any anti-police insurgency in the U.S. will likely start as an urban-based guerrilla-style movement. Attacks may be carried out on sites and symbols of law enforcement. Small arms and improvised explosive devices will likely be weapons of choice, which are relatively easy to acquire and build, respectively….. The U.S. government will seem to have a handle on the insurgency at first but will gradually come to recognize that this is different…. I am often amazed that many people appear unaware that Nelson Mandela was co-founder of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the violent youth wing of the African National Congress,”
The Right to Crash Cars Into People
[The New Republic, via DailyPoster April 25, 2021]
In 2017, “a 20-year-old neo-Nazi named James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove a Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people counterprotesting the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Fields injured scores of people and killed a woman named Heather Heyer. The obvious and immediate response to this intentional attack was nearly universal shock and horror. Fields was charged with murder and convicted. But since just before that attack, and even more so after it, Republican elected officials across the country have been trying to make it easier for certain people to run over certain other people.”
Eric Alterman, April 30, 2021 [The American Prospect]
On the boundless and hugely remunerative cynicism of Rupert Murdoch and his faux-news fabricators