Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 23, 2021
by Tony Wikrent
Predatory Capitalism in the Time of COVID19
‘Government Money That’s Gone Into Vaccine Development Is Being Privatized by a Handful of Companies’
[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-2021]
It Was The Government That Produced COVID-19 Vaccine Success
[Health Affairs Blog, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-2021]
“Who owns the covid vaccines?”
Cory Doctorow [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-17-2021]
““Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” The true mRNA vaccines theft isn’t entrepreneur-inventors who face robbery by the public sector — rather, those “entrepreneurs” have enjoyed billions in public subsidies, and now insist they owe nothing in return….. Pharma’s claim that it doesn’t owe us anything in return makes no sense, even by the companies’ own logic. They say that markets produce wonders because they reward canny risk-taking with vast fortunes. By that logic, the public — who assumed the majority of the risk in developing vaccines — are the angel investors in this high-tech unicorn, and the pharma companies are the VCs who came in with some late capital to help scale up a sure thing.”
America Is Failing Its Moral Test on Vaccines
New York Times Editorial Board, May 14, 2021, via Naked Capitalism 5-16-2021]
The H.I.V. advocacy group PrEP4All estimates that for $4 billion — less than the country is spending per day on coronavirus response efforts — the federal government could build enough manufacturing capacity to vaccinate the entire planet against the coronavirus. It will cost much more to actually make the needed doses, of course. The nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen estimates that a $25 billion government-wide initiative would produce around eight billion doses of mRNA vaccine, or enough to vaccinate half the planet. That’s far less than the trillions that could be lost if the economy contracts further as the pandemic persists.
Cashing in on Our Homes: Billionaire Landlords Profit as Millions Face Eviction
[Institute for Policy Studies, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-21-2021]
There are 61 individual billionaire landlords in America with collective wealth totaling $240.9 billion. These billionaire landlords have seen their wealth increase $24.4 billion since mid-March 2020. Corporate landlords have a worsening track record of poor maintenance, rising rents and fees, and harassment of tenants and evictions. 20 corporate landlord companies are responsible for at least 3,152 evictions across the U.S. during the pandemic. Many large landlords received financial support from the coronavirus relief package — sometimes while continuing to file eviction notices against their tenants. One in five renters weren’t caught up on their rent as of early February 2021. This represents 13.5 million Americans. If being behind on rent were a state, it would be the fifth-largest state in America…. The 20 corporate landlords in this report…. own or manage almost 2 million units of housing — about 4 percent of all rental housing units in the United States, or more than one in 25 rental units nationwide. Have amassed at least $245 billion in ‘cash on hand’— loans, cash and other funds from investors, banks and financial firms — to purchase homes and companies active in the market.”
Koch Funded Eviction Push While Buying Real Estate Stakes
Andrew Perez and David Sirota, May 20, 2021 [Weekly Poster 3-20-2021]
Since 2017, the Charles Koch Foundation has disclosed donating roughly $4.6 million to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, $2 million to the New Civil Rights Alliance, and $1.1 million to the Pacific Legal Foundation. These groups have been suing to overturn the CDC eviction moratorium since last fall, arguing the CDC has no authority to prevent landlords from evicting delinquent tenants, despite the pandemic.
The Koch network’s umbrella group, called Stand Together Trust (previously known as the Seminar Network), separately donated $500,000 to the Texas Public Policy Foundation in 2019.
In February, the Texas Public Policy Foundation convinced a federal judge in Texas to declare the CDC’s eviction moratorium unconstitutional. In March, a federal judge in Ohio sided with the Pacific Legal Foundation, ruling that the CDC “exceeded the scope of its authority” with its eviction ban.
The underlying problem, being totally ignored, is that judges who have been trained in the conservative “Law and Economics” doctrine are deeply hostile to a basic concept of civic republicanism embodied in the concept of the General Welfare -- that the community also has rights, such as preserving public health. See “Property, Liberty, and the Rights of the Community: Lessons from Munn v. Illinois,” by Paul Kens [Buffalo Public Interest Law Journal, Volume 30 (2011).
The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics
Wealth shown to scale
[via Mike Norman Economics, May 18, 2021]
Notes on global income inequality: A non-technical summary
Branko Milanovic [Global Inequality, via Mike Norman Economics, May 17, 2021]
Middle-Class Pay Lost Pace. Is Washington to Blame?
[New York Times, May 13, 2021]
A new paper by liberal economists presents evidence that policymakers helped hold down wages for four decades.
One of the most urgent questions in economics is why pay for middle-income workers has increased only slightly since the 1970s, even as pay for those near the top has escalated.
For years, the rough consensus among economists was that inexorable forces like technology and globalization explained much of the trend. But in a new paper, Lawrence Mishel and Josh Bivens, economists at the liberal Economic Policy Institute, conclude that government is to blame. “Intentional policy decisions (either of commission or omission) have generated wage suppression,” they write.
Included among these decisions are policymakers’ willingness to tolerate high unemployment and to let employers fight unions aggressively; trade deals that force workers to compete with low-paid labor abroad; and the tacit or explicit blessing of new legal arrangements, like employment contracts that make it harder for workers to seek new jobs.
America’s Dead Souls
[The Paris Review, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]
At the end of her life my mother made less than $10,000 a year. Suffering from debilitating depression while caring for her aging parents, she found herself chronically unemployed, undermedicated, and overstressed. In our final phone call, as we navigated her looming eviction, she asked me, rhetorically: “Why are these people harassing me? What good does it do them?” I didn’t have an answer for her. Or I did, but it felt obvious and stupid to say out loud. They wanted money. Everybody wants money. The people in power don’t care if we live or die, as long as they get paid. My last correspondence with my mom was a $2,500 money order (two and a half months of my pay), which I hoped would buy me time to cobble together a more sustainable plan.
Her chronic delinquency with bills was publicly searchable in government databases and thus acted as a beacon to financial predators. She owed everyone. Or at least that’s what the letters said. They bombarded her daily with phone calls, notices, emails. The IRS garnished her wages for back taxes calculated from a years-old misfiling they refused to correct. And then, through a series of absurd events that would make even Gogol shudder, she died, and I inherited it all.
Well, not all of it. I didn’t inherit the assets. She didn’t leave a will, which meant the state of Tennessee inherited her house. What I inherited was her debt.
I suddenly found myself looking down a double-barreled future of doom and despair. The hospital where my mother died claimed I owed them more than a quarter of a million dollars. Wells Fargo held me responsible for a house I no longer had legal claim to. Creditors and housing developers knew about my mom’s death before my extended family did. I was a few months away from turning twenty-six. Two days after she died they began calling me….
If only the con artists and thieves of America’s upper classes would wonder about the dead they’ve profited from. There are endless articles on why America has failed to curb the pandemic. The truth is simple. People profit from our death. Foreclosure companies, debt collectors, real estate agents, news corporations, health care tycoons, senators, and presidents, to name a few. After my mom’s death I found myself locked into a dentist chair, comforting the assistant of my dental hygienist. She wore a hazmat suit. In her plastic safety helmet, she sobbed through a panic attack. I weakly patted her gloved hand. Her father had died unexpectedly several months ago. She couldn’t prove he didn’t owe the debts they claimed he owed. She tried to tell the collectors her story (her father left no paperwork or will, he had died horribly and abruptly, she couldn’t afford to pay). Only one collector took pity on her. He explained it just wasn’t good business to believe her. If his firm believed every story they were told they would be poor men indeed.
What did I tell her to do? I told her to do what I did. Pretend you’re rich. Hire a lawyer. Open a credit card, if you have to. A meager amount of wealth will insulate you from a lifetime of woe, exactly as it was designed to. All my lawyer had to do was send a memo on official letterhead and my mother’s debts in death dropped 90 percent. More than a quarter of a million dollars was erased in an instant—an accounting that five weeks of my pleading, bargaining, reasoning, denying, uploading, scanning, begging, faxing, and crying had not been able to extract.
The Colonial Pipeline Was Fine, But Its Owner Shut It Down To Make Sure They’d Get Paid Correctly
[Jalopnik, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]
South Korea’s “Economic Miracle” Was Built on Murderous Repression
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]
Chile votes for radicals and independents to write new constitution
[FT, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]
Lambert Strether comments: “2021 – 1973, the year of the Pinochet coup = 48 years. That’s the time it’s taken to even begin to undo the damage caused by the neoliberals at the University of Chicago and their torturers.”
Britain destroyed records of colonial crimes
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 5-19-2021]
Health Care Crisis
“Health Care Lobbyists Are Trying to Block the Public Option at the State Level” [Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]
“When President Joe Biden outlined his legislative priorities during his first address to Congress last month, notably absent was a major campaign promise: a public health insurance option. Instead, his current health reform proposal will funnel $200 billion more to private insurance companies to subsidize premiums, without any requirement that they cap out-of-pocket costs or eliminate them altogether. As a result of Biden’s approach, states have been left to introduce public option legislation themselves, in the process taking on some of the nation’s largest and most politically organized businesses. From coast to coast, health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies are using every tactic at their disposal to block states from passing public option legislation. Such efforts show how determined the industry is to block any sort of reform that threatens its massive profits.”
Big Money v. The Public Option
Julia Rock, May 18, 2021 [Weekly Poster
Restoring balance to the economy
In Washington State, the Left Won a Major Victory for Taxing the Rich
[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]
Lawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]
The Republicans line up in opposition:
“Unleashing tens of thousands of new IRS agents on families, farms and businesses is not the answer, nor is turning the local bank into an IRS chapter that reports on the transactions and withdrawals of Americans’ private bank accounts,” Rep. Kevin Brady (Texas), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Thursday. “That is an intrusiveness that the American people simply won’t stand for.”
“The PRO Act: What’s in It and Why Is It a Labor Movement Priority?”
Kim Kelly [Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-20-21]
“... Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021. Better known as the PRO Act, this bill would be the first major worker-friendly labor law reform since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935, would significantly expand workers’ ability to join and organize unions, and level heavy penalties on employers who stand in their way. There are a number of exciting reforms in the bill, including a federal override of so-called right-to-work laws that weaken unions by allowing members to opt out of paying dues; an end to the hated 1947 Taft-Hartley Act’s ban on secondary strikes (also known as solidarity strikes, these are collective actions that employees in different workplaces can undertake to support another group of workers on strike); an update to the union election process to allow workers to vote online or by phone; enhanced protections for whistleblowers; and a response to the issue of worker misclassification that would give independent contractors — a group left out of the original NLRA that is still denied basic labor rights (especially those who are part of the so-called gig economy) — the right to organize collectively. (As an independent contractor myself, I am especially thrilled about that one.) The PRO Act would also outlaw captive-audience meetings, a particularly egregious but currently legal union-busting tactic favored by anti-union companies.”
Climate and environmental crises
Twenty firms produce 55% of world’s plastic waste, report reveals
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-18-2021]
Just 20 companies are the source of more than half of single-use plastic items thrown away globally, according to a study that highlights the devastating impact on the environment. The Plastic Waste Makers Index, published Tuesday, names the companies that are at the forefront of the plastic supply chain and manufacture polymers, known as the building block of plastics. It also highlighted that the firms identified are supported by a small number of financial backers. Single-use plastics, such as bottles, bags and food packages, are the most commonly discarded type of plastic. Made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, these “throwaway” plastics often end their short lifecycle polluting the oceans, being burned or dumped into landfills. The study says 20 petrochemical companies are responsible for 55% of the world’s single-use plastic waste. The findings were published by the Minderoo Foundation, one of Asia’s largest philanthropies. The research was conducted by academics from the London School of Economics, the Stockholm Environment Institute, Wood Mackenzie, among others. U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil tops the list, contributing 5.9 million metric tons to global plastic waste, closely followed by U.S. chemicals company Dow and China’s Sinopec. The study says 100 companies are the source of 90% of global single-use plastic production.”
“Hurricane ‘Price Tags’ Could Reveal the Cost of Global Warming”
[Wired, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]
“Now a team of researchers has put a specific ‘climate price tag’ on Sandy’s destruction in the area around New York City, estimating that climate change alone added an extra $8 billion in damages, and that an additional 71,000 people were affected by severe flooding. Altogether, the calculations state that human-driven global warming boosted Sandy’s total cost to the area by 13 percent. The new study focused on only one aspect of climate change: rising sea levels, caused by the melting of polar ice caps and the expansion of seawater as its temperature increases, a process known as thermal expansion. The study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, is the first time that researchers have put a dollar figure on the direct role of climate change for a specific event, and they say they hope to do it for future storms as well. ‘The fact that just a few inches of attributable sea level rise caused so much damage points to the idea that climate change is hurting us much more than we realize,’ says Benjamin Strauss, chief scientist at Climate Central, a Princeton, New Jersey–based research organization and lead author on the new paper.”
The U.S. Is Not Ready For An All-Electric Future
[Oilprice, via The Big Picture 5-21-2021]
The U.S. is woefully unprepared to handle “the electrification of everything.” Increased electrification in all sectors will need huge investments in the electric grid, in battery storage to back up renewable power generation, in charging points for EVs, and in technologies such as green hydrogen to help those technologies to reach maturity and cost efficiency enough to start replacing fossil fuels. (Oilprice)
Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War
“Fourth House GOP lawmaker issued $5,000 metal detector fine”
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]
“According to the Capitol Police report documenting the incident last Thursday, Foxx set off a metal detector stationed in front of a door leading to the House chamber. Two Capitol Police officers tried to stop Foxx, but she threw her bag underneath a table near the metal detector and still went into the chamber. Foxx then returned to the metal detector and allegedly told the officers, ‘Good thing no one stopped me.'”
The making of a myth: How an obscure Texas security company helped convince Americans the 2020 election was stolen from Trump
[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 5-16-2021]
Russell J. Ramsland Jr. sold everything from Tex-Mex food to light-therapy technology. Then he sold the story that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. (Washington Post)
“Josh Hawley Has a Populist Revolt to Sell You”
Jacob Bacharach [In These Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-19-21]
“Hawley is not as intelligent as his elite mentors seem to think he is, but he is undoubtedly a skilled opportunist. Before the Capitol riot dimmed his star somewhat, he had even begun to make inroads as a Trumpist that Democrats on the corporate-skeptical Left might be able to work with. Although his votes often belied his real loyalties — Hawley supported Trump’s tax cuts, for example — he was a reliable rhetorical ally for a growing coalition of writers, iconoclastic economists and politicians clustered under the broad umbrella of anti-monopoly advocacy.”
The Tyranny of Big Tech is less a book than it is a pamphlet. (Like so many hastily published conservative titles, its 200 pages are padded out with notes — mostly links — and a slim index.) While Hawley wrote the book prior to the events of January 6, his act of incitement prompted Simon & Schuster to cancel its release, and the senator threatened to sue the publisher, calling its decision “Orwellian.” The conservative Regnery Publishing then stepped into the breach and published the book instead. (In a delicious twist that speaks to our age of corporate consolidation, Regnery’s books are distributed by none other than Simon & Schuster.)
The book is divided into three sections: a hilariously potted history of American political economy and monopoly; a middle section detailing the many abuses, real and imagined, of the Big Tech firms; and a brief conclusion that includes a chapter titled “What Each of Us Can Do.” (Not much, apparently.)….
Like many conservatives, however, Hawley also wants to repeal “Section 230” of the Communications Decency Act, which he mistakenly believes has incentivized “woke” tech companies to censor conservative voices. In fact, Section 230’s broad liability exclusions for platforms protects controversial expression, and the moment these companies become responsible for what users post on their sites and networks, they will almost certainly begin to censor, ban and police content much more aggressively than they do already….
Hawley gestures at the imbalance between “labor and capital,” but actual workers hardly appear in the book, and the book’s discussion of labor unions is confined to a single footnote. Hawley claims that capital pays too small a share of taxes but neglects to mention that he has supported legislation that reduced that tax burden or that he has publicly called for a complete elimination of the inheritance tax — another means of addressing accumulated capital.
“Corporate liberalism” may be the bogeyman of The Tyranny of Big Tech, but Hawley seems much more concerned about “liberalism” than actual corporations. Indeed, his anti-corporate posture is unconvincing in part because he is only willing to target tech, and not any of the other equally disastrous concentrations of corporate power in Big Pharma, Big Ag and numerous other sectors.
“Inside the disinformation machine: How far-right media brainwash millions daily” [Flux, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 5-21-21]
Over the past two decades, the American media landscape has been transformed. At the turn of the last century, a hundred-year-old news canon still reigned supreme: professional journalism from wire services such as the Associated Press and leading newspapers set a national news agenda. Magazines, broadcasters, and local newspapers added their own reporting, but paid close attention to the national template. The formula worked: the late 20th century was the Golden Age of the journalism business. Professional news organizations played a powerful role in society, and ad-rich newspapers and broadcasters made record profits.
That all changed in the early 2000’s, when the new digital platforms — including Google, Facebook, and Craigslist — challenged that structure and blew up its business model. Journalism’s mainstays, lucrative display and classified advertising, migrated online with the advantage of reaching targeted consumers. Audiences who had been told “content wants to be free” balked at the paywalls that compensated journalists to report and editors to vet their work.
As a result, between 2000 and 2020, network news divisions closed scores of foreign and national bureaus, and one in five US newspapers failed. Over a thousand counties, most of them rural, were left with no newspaper at all.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and as professional journalism disappeared from thousands of communities, new media models stood ready to take its place. The Radical Right’s media ecosystem was built on previous decades of media development through religious broadcasting and political direct mail. They benefited not just from the news deserts, they also combined with the opportunities presented by new media technologies. These would mushroom into an entire ecosystem of religious fundamentalist radio programs and podcasts, many of them disguised as “news programs,” as well as countless digital platforms and social media initiatives that have been feeding a toxic diet of political propaganda and COVID misinformation to their audiences in recent years.
To understand this ecosystem, it’s useful to explore its roots. Many of these can be traced to a shadowy organization called the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981 in the wake of Reagan’s election. Its founding fathers were strategist Paul Weyrich, networker Morton Blackwell, and mass marketer Richard Viguerie.
Just 12 People Are Behind Most Vaccine Hoaxes On Social Media, Research Shows
[NPR, via The Big Picture 5-16-2021]
The Disinformation Dozen are twelve anti-vaxxers who play leading roles in spreading digital misinformation about Covid vaccines. They were selected because they have large numbers of followers, produce high volumes of anti-vaccine content or have seen rapid growth of their social media accounts in the last two months.
Major Corporations Are Backing Politicians’ Anti-Voting, Anti-Protest Efforts Around the Country
[De Smog Blog, via Naked Capitalism 5-17-2021]
The Normalization Of Voter Suppression
David Sirota, May 17, 20221 Weekly Poster]
The data point comes in a new CBS/YouGov survey, buried under the topline finding that almost two-thirds of Republican voters do not consider Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 election, despite Biden’s electoral college and popular vote victories.
Further down in the survey, pollsters asked GOP voters whether in advance of the 2022 election, they would advise Republican leaders to “tell the public about popular policies and ideas” or instead “push for changes to voting rules,” on the basis that Republicans “will win once those changes are in place.”
Nearly half of Republican supported the latter move, with the strongest demographics in support being female Republicans, non-white Republicans and white Republicans with no college degree:
The Confrontations Are Coming
Paul Starr, May 17, 2021 [The American Prospect]
Inside the military’s secret army, the largest undercover force ever
[Newsweek, via The Big Picture 5-22-2021]
The largest undercover force the world has ever known is the one created by the Pentagon over the past decade. Some 60,000 people now belong to this secret army, many working under masked identities and in low profile. The force, more than ten times the size of the clandestine elements of the CIA, carries out domestic and foreign assignments, both in military uniforms and under civilian cover, in real life and online, sometimes hiding in private businesses and consultancies, some of them household name companies.
“Has Biden Changed? He Tells Us” [David Brooks, New York Times]. WC 5-21 “Another piece of his basic worldview comes from 20th-century Catholic social teaching. He said that his father loved the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, and later in the conversation mentioned that he, too, was guided by Maritain. Like most of the major figures of Catholic social teaching, Maritain placed great emphasis on social solidarity, the organic interdependence of people and communities. If you’re drenched in Maritain, you believe we have serious responsibilities for one another…. The Biden administration has broken with the thinking that dominated the Clinton and Obama administrations in other ways as well, though it’s not clear how much of this is driven by Biden and how much by the team around him. As Ronald Brownstein noted in The Atlantic, for years the dominant Democratic view was that wages would rise if you gave people more skills and education. The dominant Biden era view is that you also have to give people more union bargaining power to balance corporate power. For years Democrats predominantly believed you could help Black Americans if you designed colorblind policies aimed at the working class. Now Biden officials are more likely to believe you have to create race-conscious policies that explicitly benefit Blacks.” • It’s been a long, long time since Democrats designed “policies aimed at the working class.”