Sunday, January 9, 2022

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 9, 2022

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 9, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Yes, Maggie, There Is Such a Thing as “Society”

Lambert Strether, January 3, 2022 [Naked Capitalism]

The Iron Lady, the late Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thacher, famously remarked: “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

In this short and simple post, I will show that we can prove Thatcher wrong, using what we have learned about airborne transmission in the current pandemic. First, I will present an experiment, and then I will show why it is disproves Thatcher (and, if one should wish to undertake the task, a lot of libertarian and libertarian-adjacent foofra about “methodological individualism” as well, although that is a task for another day).

First, the experiment. (I am using The Asahi Shimbun‘s coverage; here is the original study.) Here is a photo of the setup….

Now, let’s reframe the experiment as a model, the sort of simple model that pseudo-Nobel prize-winning economists construct. Let’s model “interactive coexistence” of humans or “persistent social interaction” as two mannequins locked in a box together, sharing air. This is, in fact, not as far-fetched a model of humanity as it seems at first. We are an indoor species:

“We spend more time in our homes, than whales spend submerged beneath the surface of the ocean,” said Dr. Richard Corsi of Portland State University, who has studied indoor air quality for 30 years. “The average American lives to 79 and spends 70 of those 79 years inside buildings.”

And unless we are Ted Kaczynski, in solitary confinement, leaving on the street, or Simeon Stylites — all surely edge cases — we spend our time indoors with others, sharing air. In other words, breathing is a social relation[2]. We have the most material social relationship possible — sharing air — between two individuals, and they do not have to be family. Ergo, Maggie Thatcher is wrong….

It’s interesting to rethink the arguments for “freedom” — a word, though not a concept, I am coming to loathe — in terms of seat belts or cigarette smoking. Ultimately, seat belts became mandatory, and cigarette smoking in shared air was forbidden. Auto accidents and cancer weren’t multiplying exponentially in the space of days, however….

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-7-2022]


“The liberty of local bullies”

Noah Smith [Noahpinion, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-4-2021]

“I have often remarked in the past how libertarianism – at least, its modern American manifestation – is not really about increasing liberty or freedom as an average person would define those terms. An ideal libertarian society would leave the vast majority of people feeling profoundly constrained in many ways. This is because the freedom of the individual can be curtailed not only by the government, but by a large variety of intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions. In a society such as ours, where the government maintains a nominal monopoly on the use of physical violence, there is plenty of room for people to be oppressed by such intermediate powers, whom I call ‘local bullies.’ The modern American libertarian ideology does not deal with the issue of local bullies. In the world envisioned by Nozick, Hayek, Rand, and other foundational thinkers of the movement, there are only two levels to society – the government (the ‘big bully’) and the individual. If your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your freedom is not being taken away at all.”

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 2, 2022

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 2, 2022

by Tony Wikrent


Happy new year! 


Strategic Political Economy

“The collapse of the USSR thirty years ago helped to undermine the Cold War democracy that opposed it”

Heather Cox Richardson, December 26, 2021 [Letters from an American]

...the collapse of the USSR gave the branch of the Republican Party that wanted to destroy the New Deal confidence that their ideology was right. Believing that their ideology of radical individualism had destroyed the USSR, these so-called Movement Conservatives very deliberately set out to destroy what they saw as Soviet-like socialist ideology at home. As anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “For 40 years conservatives fought a two-front battle against statism, against the Soviet empire abroad and the American left at home. Now the Soviet Union is gone and conservatives can redeploy. And this time, the other team doesn't have nuclear weapons.”

In the 1990s, they turned their firepower on those they considered insufficiently committed to free enterprise, including traditional Republicans who agreed with Democrats that the government should regulate the economy, provide a basic social safety net, and promote infrastructure. Movement Conservatives called these traditional Republicans “Republicans in Name Only” or RINOs and said that, along with Democrats, such RINOs were bringing “socialism” to America.

With the “evil empire,” as President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union, no longer a viable enemy, Movement Conservatives, aided by new talk radio hosts, increasingly demonized their domestic political opponents. As they strengthened their hold on the Republican Party, Movement Conservatives cut taxes, slashed the social safety net, and deregulated the economy.

In the 1990s, as well-connected businessmen began to gather wealth and power in the former Soviet republics, that deregulation made the US and the UK attractive places for these oligarchs to place their illicit money. According to a fascinating new study from Chatham House about the UK, that investment ultimately weakened the rule of law. The study concerns the UK alone, but since the UK and US are by far the world’s top exporters of financial services, many of the report’s findings are suggestive for the US as well….

The financial deregulation that made the US a good bet for oligarchs to launder money got a boost when, after the September 11 attacks on the US, Congress in 2001 passed the PATRIOT Act to address the threat of terrorism. The law took on money laundering and the illicit funding of terrorism, requiring financial institutions to inspect large sums of money passing through them. But the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) exempted many real estate deals from the new regulations.

In the years since, the United States has become one of the money-laundering capitals of the world. Experts say that hundreds of billions of dollars are laundered in the US every year. As Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) noted last year, “[I]t’s illegal for foreigners to contribute to our campaigns, but if you launder your money through a front company with anonymous ownership there is very little we can do to stop you.”


In some ways, the collapse of the USSR thirty years ago helped to undermine the Cold War democracy that opposed it. In the past thirty years, we have torn ourselves apart as  politicians adhering to an extreme ideology demonized their opponents. That demonization is escalating now as Republican radicals who were born after the collapse of the USSR and who therefore see their primary enemies as Democrats, are moving the Republican Party even further to the right. North Carolina representative Madison Cawthorn, for example, was born in 1995.

That demonization has also helped to justify the deregulation of our economy and then the illicit money from the rising oligarchs it attracted, money that has corrupted our democratic system. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 26, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 26, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy


Capitalism Didn’t Make the iPhone, You iMbecile


The creation of the entire new era of computers and information technology can be precisely traced back to one event, when U.S. Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research convened a seminar to deliberately share the technologies developed by various government programs and projects during World War Two:

August 1946: The Moore School Lectures


The Moore School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was at the center of developments in high-speed electronic computing in 1946. On February 14 of that year it had publicly unveiled the ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, developed in secret beginning in 1943 for the Army's Ballistics Research Laboratory. Prior even to the ENIAC's completion, work had begun on a second-generation electronic digital computer, the EDVAC, which incorporated the stored program model. Work at the Moore School attracted researchers including John von Neumann, who served as a consultant to the EDVAC project, and Stan Frankel and Nicholas Metropolis of the Manhattan Project, who arrived to run one of the first major programs written for the ENIAC, a mathematical simulation for the hydrogen bomb project…. The 8-week course was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Army's Ordnance Department and the U.S. Navy's Office of Naval Research, who promised (by verbal authorizations) the $3,000 requested to cover lecturer salaries and fees and $4,000 for travel, printing, and overhead. ($1,569 over this figure was ultimately claimed.)

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 19, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 19, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Political Philosophies and Positive Political Psychology: Inter-Disciplinary Framework for the Common Good

Masaya Kobayashi [Frontiers in Psycholog, via Mike Norman Economics 12-14-2021]

This manuscript explores the relationship between positive psychology and political philosophy, revealing an inter-disciplinary approach that speaks to the concerns of the common good. Since positive psychology has been expanding its reach into social and political spheres, its relationship to philosophical arguments has been worthy of exploration. Positive psychology is associated with utilitarianism, and aspects of hedonic psychology. However, an alternative concept of eudaimonic well-being has enabled this psychology to have links to other political philosophies. Therefore, this manuscript provides an overview of contemporary political philosophies: first, it discusses the debate between liberalism and communitarianism, and secondly, it summarizes the subsequent developments of liberal perfectionism, capability approach, and deliberative democracy. Then, the configuration of these political philosophies is indicated by the figure of two axes of “individual/collective” and “ethical/non-ethical.” The following section compiles the inter-relationships between the conceptions of citizenship, justice, and well-being, regarding the main political philosophies: egoism, utilitarianism, libertarianism, liberalism, communitarianism, and conservatism. Utilitarianism is associated with happiness, while liberalism and libertarianism rely on the concept of rights, which is almost equal to the idea of justice. Accordingly, utilitarianism is a philosophy of well-being, while liberalism and libertarianism are philosophies of justice. However, there is little connection between well-being and justice in these philosophies because the two kinds of philosophies are incompatible. The latter kind criticizes the former because the maximization of happiness can infringe on people’s rights. Moreover, these philosophies do not particularly value citizenship. In contrast, communitarianism is intrinsically the political philosophy of citizenship most attuned to increasing well-being, and it can connect an idea of justice with well-being. The final part offers a framework to develop an inter-disciplinary collaboration. Positive psychology can provide the empirical basis of the two axes above concerning political philosophies. On the other hand, the correspondence makes the character of political philosophies clearer. While libertarianism and liberalism correspond to psychology as usual, utilitarianism and communitarianism correspond to positive psychology, and the latter can be regarded as positive political philosophies. This recognition leads to the interdisciplinary framework, enabling multi-disciplinary collaboration, including work with the social sciences, which could benefit the common good….

...Sandel typically argued for the resurgence of republicanism as a public philosophy in America instead of the liberalism that has been dominant since WWII (Sandel, 1996). Republicanism originates in res publica in ancient Greek and Rome, and it means active political participation for self-government by people with civic virtue. If people lack civic virtue, they tend to fall into political apathy or become manipulated by demagogues. Thus, civic virtue has a vital role in making democracy sound and better in quality.

Although liberalism sometimes supports republicanism, it respects the institutional mechanism against dictatorship, typically separation of powers. Accordingly, it sometimes supports people’s political participation: this version is liberal republicanism (Ackerman, 1993/2000). Nevertheless, liberalism, including even this version, tends to disregard the ethical aspect of republicanism. In contrast, communitarianism emphasizes the vital significance of civic virtue for political participation. It advocates civic virtue as one of the essential human virtues, and therefore it frequently accompanies republicanism to be termed communitarian republicanism.

In sum, while liberalism and libertarianism are individualist and non-ethical, especially concerning public spheres, communitarianism has an ethical and communal (or public) orientation: it attaches importance to various collaborative activities and communities, as well as to the good life sustained by morality and virtue, not only in private lives but also in public lives.

“The force of historical decline.”

Haydar Khan [The Scrum, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-17-2021] Galbraith v. Thiel. 

Galbraith: “The institutional, infrastructure, resource basis, and psychological foundations for a Keynesian revival no longer exist.” 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 12, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 12, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-5-2021]

… the playing fields of Eton:


The Pandemic That Capitalism Made 

Umair Haque, via Naked Capitalism 12-9-2021]

It Would Cost Less to Vaccinate the World Than Big Pharma Earns in Vaccine Profits. If That Doesn’t Make Sense…That’s Because It Doesn’t

Do you ever wonder about those pharma TV commercials, and why any company would pay millions to have a speed-talker drone on about bad side-effects for 30 seconds? The intended result is what Haque writes about former CDC Director Tom Frieden's comments in Europe that “Big Pharma is war profiteering” off COVID: 

Why does he say that? Well, first note that he had to head to the UK, to say it on Dispatches, which is one of the nation’s finest and most hardest-hitting news programs. In other words, nobody in America would even run the story.

Normalizing Corruption: The Biden White House purports to be worried about corruption — just not the kind now dominating American politics.

Andrew Perez, December 9, 2021 [Daily Poster].

“Corruption robs citizens of equal access to vital services, denying the right to quality health care, public safety, and education,” the Biden administration wrote Monday [report], adding that corruption ‘has been shown to significantly curtail the ability of states to respond effectively to public health crises.’ The Biden administration, as it turns out, is a perfect example of this: Every policy solution they propose involves some sort of corporate giveaway. This is the kind of institutionalized and legalized bribery that’s almost never discussed — the corruption that’s responsible for high health care costs and poor health care outcomes in the U.S., and that has made it effectively impossible for lawmakers to rationally respond to the COVID-19 pandemic here and around the globe. As if to drive the problem home, within hours of releasing their corruption report, the Biden White House was flailing on TV trying to defend an overly complex COVID testing plan that will keep Americans paying inflated retail prices for at-home tests with the hope that their health insurer will agree to reimburse them at some later point. This plan is wildly impractical, but it would be a boon for the same testing manufacturer that just so happened to start paying Biden’s former top aide shortly after Biden was elected president.” • Ouch. That petty? More: “One company that stands to benefit from this convoluted testing regime is Abbott Laboratories, which hired Biden’s former legislative affairs director Sudafi Henry shortly after the 2020 election. Abbott executives and employees donated $174,000 to Biden’s presidential campaign, according to OpenSecrets. Abbott has dominated the at-home test market in the U.S., in large part because the Biden administration has failed to quickly approve other rapid tests.”

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 5, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 5, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

The pandemic and (de)population policy

Background: Henry Kissinger’s December 1974 National Security Study Memorandum 200, Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests (NSSM 200)

“Omicron’s Message”

[Nonzero, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 12-2-2021]

“[T]he acceleration of global vaccination… is something the world’s most powerful leaders aren’t focused on. If they were focused on it, we’d be seeing the unfolding of a project that looked something like this: (1) loosening the intellectual property rights enjoyed by vaccine makers; (2) compelling them to share the know-how that would allow factories around the world to take advantage of this loosening and ramp up vaccine production; and (3) making sure, with subsidies if necessary, that (a) the vaccine makers who thus sacrifice profits are rewarded amply enough to preserve their incentive to innovate; and (b) the newly abundant vaccines are inexpensive, especially in low-income countries. So incompetent are the world’s leaders that they can’t even get to step 1 of this project.” • Incompetence is the charitable explanation.

2.5 Million Nurses Demand UN Probe Into ‘Covid-19 Criminals’ Blocking Patent Waiver

[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 11-29-2021]

More than two million nurses from 28 countries across the globe filed a complaint Monday calling on the United Nations to investigate the rich countries that are blocking a proposed patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines, an appeal that came as public health experts raced to understand the newly detected Omicron variant.

In a detailed letter addressed to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health, dozens of nursing unions noted that "the end of this pandemic is nowhere in sight" as "Covid-19 cases continue to soar in numerous parts of the world, while pharmaceutical companies and governments have failed to ensure that critical treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably in order to respond to the pandemic."

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 28, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 28, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Destroying Democracy Is Central to the Privatization of Public Goods 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 11-22-2021]

How Delaware Became the World’s Biggest Offshore Haven 

[Foreign Policy, via Naked Capitalism 11-21-2021]

The American Ruling Class Has Never Let Us Build Back Better 

[Jacobin, via The Daily Poster, November 21, 2021]

The defeat of Reconstruction was the nation’s first failure to build back better, and it set the stage for the failures that followed. American austerity politics found their first full expression during this period, pivoting on an ideological turn to classical liberalism within the Republican Party. The events of the 1870s created a pattern of missed opportunities and reactionary blowback that has since been repeated time and again.”

Fighting the Inflation Profiteers

David Dayen, November 24, 2021 [The American Prospect]

Companies are raising prices well above increases in their costs. The only antidote is to finally take action against corporate power….

“Executives are seizing a once in a generation opportunity to raise prices,” reads a Wall Street Journal storyexplaining that around two-thirds of the largest publicly traded companies are showing profit margins higher today than they did in 2019, before the pandemic. Over 100 companies show profit margins of 50 percent or more above those 2019 levels…. Corporate executives are not hiding their handiwork; instead, they’re boasting about it in financial disclosures and earnings calls. “We have not seen any material reaction from consumers,” said the chief financial officer of Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer goods company, which has hiked prices three times in the past year. “What we are very good at is pricing,” said Colgate-Palmolive’s CEO. “We find that taking several small price increases is more effective than one large price jump,” added the CFO of Unilever. Dollar Tree, a discount store which has the word “dollar” in its name, has decided to permanently set its price point at $1.25, stating specifically that the move is “not a reaction to short-term or transitory market conditions.”

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 21, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 21, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Notes on an Authoritarian Conspiracy: Inside the Claremont Institute’s “79 Days to Inauguration”

[The Bulwark, via The Big Picture 11-14-2021]

... report published in mid-October 2020 by the Claremont Institute and Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) called “79 Days to Inauguration,” prepared by “Constitutional scholars, along with experts in election law, foreign affairs, law enforcement, and media . . . coordinated by a retired military officer experienced in running hundreds of wargames.”

Among these luminaries were figures such as John Eastman—lawyer for Donald Trump and author of a memo advising Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally block certification of Joe Biden’s win in order to buy time for GOP-controlled state legislatures to send competing slates of electors—and K.T. McFarland, who served as deputy national security advisor under Michael Flynn in the Trump White House.

Other participants include Kevin Roberts, then-executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (soon to be head of the Heritage Foundation), Jeff Giesea, “a [Peter] Thiel protégé and secret funder of alt-right causes,” and Charles Haywood, a fringe blogger who anxiously awaits an American “Caesar, authoritarian reconstructor of our institutions.”

….Practically, the report is an instruction manual for how Trump partisans at all levels of government—aided by citizen “posses” of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers—could, quite literally, round up opposition activists, kill their leaders, and install Donald Trump for a second term in office….

are via emailThere’s more irony in how the task force imagines right-wing gangs would operate during such a period: with quiet discipline and in cooperation with law enforcement…. In reading the report, it becomes clear that task force participants see law enforcement as a critical adjunct to the more traditional political actors and that they believe law enforcement could act with greater impunity and force, independent from—and at times in defiance of—elected leaders…. Earlier this year the Claremont Institute created a Sheriffs Fellowship program. Claremont claims that this program will offer “training of unparalleled depth and excellence in American political thought and institutions.” But then, this is the same group that produced a report hoping that “several sheriffs in conservative counties” would give groups like the Proud Boys actual legal authority.

According to, the largest funders of the Claremont Institute are the Sarah Scaife Foundation ($300,000 to $400,000 a year for the past several years; the John M. Olin Foundation ($100,000 annually), and The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation ($100,000 annually). The Sarah Scaife Foundation is part of the late Richard Mellon Scaife network, whose wealth was inherited from the Mellon banking family.In a healthy republic, dedicated to promoting the General Welfare, the rich would not be allowed to pass massive wealth from from one generation to another, thus solving the two interrelated problems of wealth inequality, and the worsening sclerosis and maintenance deprivation of the national economy and physical infrastructure. The Wikipedia entry states that in April 2021, Claremont senior fellow Glenn Ellmers wrote an essay in Claremont's The American Mind,  “ “Conservatism” is no Longer Enough: All hands on deck as we enter the counter-revolutionary moment,” arguing that the United States had been destroyed by internal enemies and that

“Let’s be blunt. The United States has become two nations occupying the same country. When pressed, or in private, many would now agree. Fewer are willing to take the next step and accept that most people living in the United States today—certainly more than half—are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.... “They do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people. It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens, these non-American Americans; but they are something else.”

Menace Enters the Republican Mainstream

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 11-14-2021]

Threats of violence have become commonplace among a significant part of the party, as historians and those who study democracy warn of a dark shift in American politics. 

At a conservative rally in western Idaho last month, a young man stepped up to a microphone to ask when he could start killing Democrats.

“When do we get to use the guns?” he said as the audience applauded. “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?” 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 14, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 14, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

China files 2.5 times more patent applications than U.S. in 2020

[Xinhua, via Mike Norman Economics 11-8-2021]

China's intellectual property (IP) office led the world in 2020 by reporting 1.5 million patent applications, 2.5 times more than the United States, which ranked second, the World

Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) said on Monday....Industrial design is another area where China has taken the lead, followed by the EU, South Korea, the United States and Turkey.…

Civic republicanism and the looming civil war

“Madison Saw Something in the Constitution We Should Open Our Eyes To” 

[Jamelle Bouie, New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-12-2021] This is very good. The scene-setting:

Not content to simply count on the traditional midterm swing against the president’s party, Republicans are set to gerrymander their way to a House majority next year…. It is true that Democrats have pursued their own aggressive gerrymanders in Maryland and Illinois, but it is also true that the Democratic Party is committed, through its voting rights bills, to ending partisan gerrymandering altogether…. The larger context of the Republican Party’s attempt to gerrymander itself into a House majority is its successful effort to gerrymander itself into long-term control of state legislatures across the country. In Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and other states, Republicans have built legislative majorities sturdy enough to withstand all but the most crushing ‘blue wave.’ And in the age of Donald Trump, they are using their majorities to seize control of election administration in states all over the country, on the basis of an outlandish but still influential claim that the Constitution gives sovereign power over elections to state legislatures…. 

In Article IV, Section 4, the Constitution says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

In this vision of the Guarantee Clause, the touchstone for “a republican form of government” is political equality, and when a state imposes political inequality beyond a certain point, Congress or the federal courts step in to restore the balance…. Still, a broad understanding of the Guarantee Clause might be a potent weapon for Congress if a Democratic majority ever worked up the will to go on the offensive against state legislatures that violated basic principles of political equality.

“An Open Letter in Defense of Democracy”

Todd Gitlin, Jeffrey C. Isaac, and William Kristol]

The Bulwark, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 11-12-2021]

“Liberal democracy depends on free and fair elections, respect for the rights of others, the rule of law, a commitment to truth and tolerance in our public discourse. All of these are now in serious danger. The primary source of this danger is one of our two major national parties, the Republican Party, which remains under the sway of Donald Trump and Trumpist authoritarianism. Unimpeded by Trump’s defeat in 2020 and unfazed by the January 6 insurrection, Trump and his supporters actively work to exploit anxieties and prejudices, to promote reckless hostility to the truth and to Americans who disagree with them, and to discredit the very practice of free and fair elections in which winners and losers respect the peaceful transfer of power.”

Lambert Strether: If you take Bouie’s article above seriously, this is not true. It takes a long time to take control of state legislatures, and it also takes time to seize control over election administration. Again, it’s not an issue of personality. It’s a party movement that began before Trump, and would continue if (say) Chris Christie ran and won in 2024.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 7, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – November 7, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Billionaires Are Not Morally Qualified To Shape Human Civilization 

Caitlin Johnstone [via Naked Capitalism 11-1-2021]

Human civilization is being engineered in myriad ways by an unfathomably wealthy class who are so emotionally and psychologically stunted that they refuse to end world hunger despite having the ability to easily do so.

The United Nations has estimated that world hunger could be ended for an additional expenditure of $30 billion a year, with other estimates considerably lower. The other day Elon Musk became the first person ever to attain a net worth of over $300 billion. A year ago his net worth was $115 billion. According to, America's billionaires have a combined net worth of $5.1 trillion, which is a 70 percent increase from their combined net worth of under $3 trillion at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So we're talking about a class which could easily put a complete halt to human beings dying of starvation on this planet by simply putting some of their vast fortunes toward making sure everyone gets enough to eat. But they don't….

Billionaires should not exist. They should have their power and wealth taken from them, and the steering wheel of humanity should be given to the ordinary people who are infinitely more qualified to navigate us through the rough waters ahead for our species.


The Democracy Crisis That Is Never Discussed

David Sirota and Andrew Perez [The Daily Poster, November 2, 2021]

In 2014, Northwestern and Princeton researchers published a report statistically documenting how lawmakers do not listen or care about what most voters want, and instead mostly care about serving their big donors. Coupled with additional research documenting the discrepancy between donor and voter preferences, they bluntly concluded that the “preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.” ….New polling demonstrates the silencing effect that systemic corruption is having on voter preferences:

  • 82 percent of registered voters support adding dental and vision benefits to Medicare — and this is voters’ “top priority” for Democrats’ social spending bill, according to survey data from Morning Consult. Conservative Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have pushed to keep these benefits out of the bill, following an aggressive lobbying campaign by health insurers who enjoy massive profits from the privatized Medicare Advantage program.
  • Another top priority for voters is allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, with 72 percent saying they support the idea, according to Morning Consult. Sinema and a few House Democrats backed by the pharmaceutical industry managed to block the party’s original drug pricing measure from being put into the reconciliation bill….

This Is The Hostile Takeover

Taken together, this is the democracy crisis thrumming underneath all the media noise — the day-to-day erosion of democracy by corporations that use a system of legalized bribery to buy public policy, which then erodes Americans’ faith in their government and leads to all the down-ballot that unfolded on Tuesday night.

And yet this erosion does not get discussed in a media-directed democracy discourse that focuses almost exclusively on the January 6th insurrection or Republican efforts to deny election results and limit voting.

That dichotomy is an expression of corporate power. Corruption is omitted from most corporate media coverage because their corporate sponsors are the ones doing the vote-buying. By contrast, the insurrection and GOP assault on voting are safe topics for corporate media, because they do not threaten the power of the media’s corporate sponsors.

The US Coast Survey under Bache - excerpt from Dupree, Science in the Federal Government - HAWB

HAWB - How America Was Built

Though the US Constitution contains several explicit and implied benedictions on science, the history of national scientific institutions is one of struggle to exist on precarious and often miserly Congressional spending. Nonetheless, the national governments support and promotion of scientific inquiry and invention is the basis of the USA’s development as an industrial superpower. It is a history that flatly contradicts the conservative and libertarian myths of American economic development driven by hardy risk-taking entrepreneurs. No better examples exist than today’s computers and cell phones, which are comprised of scores of technologies, every single one of which began as one or another USA federal government research program.  

Another example is steam engine design and building, which was not put onto a scientific footing until the 1850s when Captain Benjamin Franklin Isherwood of the U.S. Navy began a careful and meticulous collection of the operating characteristics of every marine and naval steam engine he could find. Isherwood would go on to become the Admiral in charge of the Bureau of Steam Navigation during the Civil War, overseeing the expansion of the fleet from around 50 steam vessels to over 600 – a quarter with steam engines of his own design. After the war, Isherwood created a curriculum for the Naval Academy to teach officers how to properly command a steamship, which was copied around the world, and formed the foundation for a new avocation, that of mechanical engineer.  

Today, the idea of “progress” has been bowdlerized by corporate ad campaigns for “new and improved,” and a new awareness of the damage to the environment caused by modern industrial societies seeking the cheapest means to the greatest profit. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea of progress was cherished and revered, for it meant quest to free humanity from the scarcity, toil, drudgery, and disease of humanity’s struggles against the forces of nature, at a time when life expectancy limited to 30s to 40s years. 

“The great object of the institution of civil government,” President John Quincy Adams declared in his first annual message to Congress, December 6, 1825,

“is the improvement of the condition of those who are parties to the social compact, and no government, in what ever form constituted, can accomplish the lawful ends of its institution but in proportion as it improves the condition of those over whom it is established…. moral, political, intellectual improvement are duties assigned by the Author of Our Existence to social no less than to individual man.”

In the Introduction to his landmark history, Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940 (Harvard University Press, 1957), — sponsored by Sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences — A. Hunter Dupree wrote 

“…all the institutions of the country in which science exists have found the actions of the government in conducting research and and in contracting for it are factors of first importance…. Indeed, before the rise of the universities, private foundations, and industrial laboratories, the fate of science rested more exclusively with the government than it did later…. The idea that the federal government should become the patron of science was easily within the grasp of the framers of the Constitution. As educated men of the eighteenth century they knew that European governments had often supported science, and their set of fundamental values led them to hold all branches of philosophy in high regard.”

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 31, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 31, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-27-21]



‘Every Turn in This Case Has Been Another Brick Wall, and Behind It Is Chevron’ 

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-2021]

Strategic Political Economy


Patrick Armstrong, October 28, 2021 [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-28-21]

I would say that the principal theme – but read it yourself, it’s an important speech (I’m almost tempted to say valedictory) – is that the West is going down. Russia, thanks to its historical experience, has lived the experience from start to finish – twice. As Putin pointed out there was plenty of “human engineering” in the early Soviet days; the USSR failed at imposing its system. Russians know that exceptionalism doesn’t work; not because they’re wiser but because they’ve lived the failure. “These examples from our history allow us to say that revolutions are not a way to settle a crisis but a way to aggravate it. No revolution was worth the damage it did to the human potential.” 

Russia’s ‘Greens’ Revolution

Gilbert Doctorow, October 28, 2021 [via Patrick Armstrong]

In the question and answer session that followed President Putin’s speech to the annual Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi last week, Vladimir Vladimirovich said he was thankful to the European Union for imposing sanctions on Russia in 2014, because Russia’s counter-sanctions, banning food imports from the EU, resulted in an enormous boost to its agricultural industry. Russian farming coped magnificently with the challenge. Putin mentioned the $25 billion in agricultural exports that Russia booked in the last year and he went on to thank Russia’s workers in the sector who made this possible.

These remarks would suggest to both laymen and experts in the West the emergence of Russia as the world’s number one exporter of wheat and its leading position as global exporter of other grains. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 24, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 24, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Brazilian senators recommend Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity over pandemic 

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-2021]

Brazilian Leader’s Pandemic Handling Draws Explosive Allegation: Homicide 

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-2021]

Why China’s Lead on EVs Has Been a Long Time Coming

[Bloomberg, via Mike Norman Economics 10-19-2021]

When it comes to green manufacturing, China is now a clean-energy powerhouse. Its market dominance from solar panels to electric vehicles took long-term planning and a level of financial investment only state-controlled banking systems can deliver. By 2030, China will have an outsized influence on this strategic industry, and it’s poised to seize a fair share of the jobs and wealth creation that come with it.

“Far-right Christians think they’re living in a Bible story, and that you are as well” [Flux, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-22-21]

“SHEFFIELD: And I think also that you could say that many moderate or liberal Christians, they’re not aware that this alternative tradition has developed, and really grown as big as it is. And they’re also not aware that that tradition is coming for them. And that it has a power that is very compelling to a lot of people because it’s totalizing. It’s a worldview that encompasses politics, that encompasses religion, that encompasses schooling, that encompasses family. It literally can run your life for you. It can make the decisions. It can make your identity. You can finally be a part of something bigger than yourself. DOUGLAS: They may also lack understanding about what this is because a lot of it is as a kind of craziness that’s outside of their specific church or cultural traditions, but some of it is shame. I think for lots of progressive and thoughtful and intellectual [01:00:00] Christians, to engage with fundamentalist theology and politics is to experience shame. Because it’s not like yours. It’s simplistic and binary and into this sort of Manichean binary of good and evil. It’s not as sophisticated as your own religious tradition. So I think that can oftentimes mean for the moderates and liberal/progressive Christians, there’s an experience of shame. And an attempt to, I think sometimes on the other hand argue that they’re not really Christian at all. Those people are not really Christian, they’re Christian nationalists, who aren’t really in the proper Christian tradition, like we’re practicing it. But that’s a different conversation.”

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 17, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 17, 2021

Strategic Political Economy

“You lost. Stop acting like you won”

[White Hot Harlots (lyman alpha blob), via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-14-21]

“The abortion issue has been lost. I cannot fathom any plausible near or medium-term scenario in which the actually existing American left mounts a successful counteroffensive to the Texas bill. Poor women in red states and rural areas effectively do not have access to reproductive healthcare any longer. If they ever regain this right, it will be decades from now. This represents an immense and damning failure of all of America’s liberal institutions. In spite of access to abortion being generally popular–including upwards of 77% of adults wanting Roe to remain more or less in place–the Democratic party, their media apparatuses, and their NGO allies have absolutely shit the bed. They have lost. They have failed. Instead of taking a step back and examining their own tactical and moral failures, instead of owning up to their undeniable cowardice and naivety, instead of realizing that their messaging is at best confusing and at worse supremely alienating, instead of realizing that the other side doesn’t regard this as kayfabe but as a real issue they want to win… the Dems have done nothing. They’ve doubled down on failed strategies. They’ve retreated into their caverns of recrimination and mockery, wallowing in the comfort of blamelessness even as they presently control the executive branch and both houses of congress.”

The actual history of how abortion became a major issue in USA points to the role entrenched wealth manipulated politics by lavishly funding and directing movement conservatism. The “common wisdom” today is that the anti-choice forces were spurred into action when Roe v. Wade was decided. But as a number of scholars have noted, elements of what would later become the religious right actually supported Roe v. Wade at first. Writing in Politico May 27, 2014, Randall Balmer of Dartmouth College notes:

"In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976…. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press."

So, what happened? Balmer explains:

"….it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools….
"Weyrich saw that he had the beginnings of a conservative political movement, which is why, several years into President Jimmy Carter’s term, he and other leaders of the nascent religious right blamed the Democratic president for the IRS actions against segregated schools—even though the policy was mandated by Nixon, and Bob Jones University had lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated as president. Falwell, Weyrich and others were undeterred by the niceties of facts. In their determination to elect a conservative, they would do anything to deny a Democrat, even a fellow evangelical like Carter, another term in the White House.
"But Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

Also see, for example, How AT&T fuels right-wing extremists , under The Dark Side below.

There Is Shadow Inflation Taking Place All Around Us

[Upshot, via The Big Picture 10-13-2021]

Some companies haven’t been raising prices. Instead, they’ve been cutting back customer services and conveniences, but how should that be measured?

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 10, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 10, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Google Is About To Turn On Two-Factor Authentication By Default For Millions of Users 

[The Verge, via Naked Capitalism 10-6-2021]

Strategic Political Economy 

China’s Central Bank Governor Vows More Fintech Crackdown

[Bloomberg News, via Mike Norman Economics 10-8-2021] 
Sounds like a plan, especially now with the implosion of RE speculation. The bottom line seems to be controlling systemic risk. Second is addressing sources of economic rent extraction, monopoly in particular. It appears they have thought this through and it is not a knee-jerk reaction.

“Economic war crimes.” 

Marshall Auerback and Patrick Lawrence [The Scrum, via Naked Capitalism 10-5-2021]

Kneecapping China seems the best Biden can do…. 

There are fundamental social values and philosophies reflected in these different economic models. Understood properly, all economic institutions and structures—tax regimes, stock markets, regulatory environments, labor laws, and so on—reflect the values of the societies in which they exist. This is a problem for the U.S. in our time. We find that free markets and a weak state sector put Americans at a critical disadvantage next to models such as China’s. The problem is compounded because our religious devotion to supposedly free markets prevents us from even recognizing our circumstance.

We cannot compete, in short—we with our radical individualism, our free-for-all economy, and our countless social and economic casualties. And now we come to Gina Raimondo’s home truth: Because we cannot compete, we will do our best to cripple the nation against which we cannot compete.

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

“Many cities and states have spent no American Rescue Plan funds: report”

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-5-21]

“As of this summer, a majority of large cities and states had yet to use any of the funding they received as part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, according to The Associated Press. More specifically, no initial spending was reported by over half of the states and two-thirds of the 90 largest cities, the AP said. After reviewing spending reports required by the law, the AP found that states had spent 2.5 percent of the funds they initially received, and large cities spent 8.5 percent of the money.”

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 3, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 3, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Iran Cements Alliance With China, Russia In Clear Message To Washington

[, September 28, 2021, via Mike Norman Economics]

Iran’s approval last week for full membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is the surest sign yet that any U.S. efforts to keep it, or Iraq, or many key Shia Crescent Middle East states out of the China-Russia-Iran sphere of influence may now be entirely futile. The SCO is the world’s biggest regional organization both in terms of geographic scope and of population, covering 60 percent of the Eurasian continent (by far the biggest single landmass on Earth), 40 percent of the world’s population, and more than 20 percent of global GDP. Iran’s acceptance into the group’s full membership grouping, in which it held ‘observer status’ only for over 15 years, means, in effect: that the seismic, multi-generational Iran-China deal is set for full roll-out, with Russia firmly alongside both playing its role; and, that any new ‘nuclear deal’ done with Iran by the new U.S. administration will not be worth the paper it is written on.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 9-26-2021]



Modern party leaders are actively seeking to avoid the fate of the USSR. However, many outside observers assume PRC leaders view political liberalization as the primary cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When Xi came to power in 2012/2013, he initiated his “anti-corruption drive” to resolve three primary constraints:

- Reduce corruption

- Soften the power-base of entrenched interests

- Uproot the most acute sources of factionalism


In hindsight, the past eight years of Xi’s reign as a continuous effort to mitigate the long-term impact of state capture and factionalism. The fact that we’re eight years in and these problems still exist likely means these are permanent features of the system. 8/

Concerning US-China relations, China is drawing lessons from the post-2008 US in the same way it draws lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Union. 18/

Many in China believe the US is deeply constrained (even incapacitated) by a combination of its private sector, entrenched state interests, and populist ultra-nationalism. 19/

"Institutional advantage" reflects a belief that the Chinese system can self-correct internally and adapt to externalities in ways the US simply cannot. 22/

China believes either sides’ ability to shed the weight of entrenched interests and conduct deep self-correction in real-time is what will define US-China relations in the 21st century. 23/

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 26, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 26, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Rich People Are Leading the Anti-Vaccine Movement — and Experts Have a Theory Why”

[Money, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-20-21]

From 2019, still germane: “Disease experts say the parents least likely to vaccinate their kids live in some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country. They’re well-educated, and have exceptional access to healthcare. And while some pockets of low-income communities of color are ‘under vaccinated’ for religious or financial reasons, studies published in places like the American Journal of Public Health show that the parents opting out for ‘philosophical reasons’ are mostly white and mostly wealthy…. Parents who opt out of vaccines tend to “believe, simply, that they can make the scientific determinations about the efficacy and dangers of vaccines for themselves,” she says. They have more free time on their hands than lower income parents — time that can be spent poring over anti-vaccine forums and websites, and applying for state-specific exemptions required to bypass school immunization laws…. When an outbreak does happen, rich families aren’t the only ones affected, of course. Usually, they aren’t even the hardest hit. This underscores a more sinister theory about why rich Americans are opting out of vaccines. A string of research referenced in the Washington Post last year suggests that wealthy people simply have less empathy than everybody else. They’re more likely to cheat on their taxes, and their spouses. And they give lower proportions of their income to charity. ‘Wealth is basically a mechanism for power, and power has a freeing effect on people,’ the social psychologist Adam Galinsky told the Post.’“It takes away the constraints of society and frees people to act according to their dominant desires.’ If you’re rich, the consequences of ‘opting out’ aren’t particularly dire. After all, it’s easier to rationalize the risks of bypassing immunization if you can afford a lengthy hospital stay, or to pull your kid out of daycare if her classmate gets sick. And while the U.S. has a long history of stigmatizing poor parents—’free range parenting,’ versus neglect, ‘welfare moms‘ versus stay at home mothers—if you’re a wealthy anti-vaxxer, you probably won’t face any social ramifications either.” 

‘I need help’: Michigan county health director pleads for help after almost being run off the road

Aysha Qamar, September 21, 2021 [DailyKos]

As people resort to violence across the country, health officials are pleading for help. In one horrific incident, a Michigan County health director pleaded with county commissioners for help after almost being run off the road following the issuance of a mask mandate for preschool through sixth-grade school buildings, Michigan Advance reported.

“I need help. My team and I are broken. I’m about done. I’ve done my job to the best of my ability. I’ve given just about everything to Kent County, and now I’ve given some more of my safety,”  Kent County Health Department director Dr. Adam London said in a letter to county commissioners. The letter outlined his reasons for issuing the public health mandate requiring students to wear masks this fall….

“There is nothing to be gained by entertaining such people with dialog. In many cases, these are the same people who dismiss the plot against the governor as ‘just guys joking around’ and the January 6th insurrection as a peaceful patriotic protest. I think it is a grave mistake to unnecessarily give them targets and platforms. There is a sickness in America far more insidious than COVID. You are more empowered to fight this disease than I am.”

London told commissioners he would not “needlessly expose” himself to “the brute mob hatred” from a “vocal and energized minority.” In his letter, he noted that people called him terms like “child-abusing monster” and even threatened him with abusive language directed at his children.

“I will not participate in witch trials in which the science I’ve presented, and the opinions of legitimate experts is reduced to the same stage as people living in echo chambers of junk science, salespeople, and YouTube videos. For the leaders of these misinformation campaigns, it’s never really been about our data, it’s been about their dogma,” London said.

Likely Assassination of UN Chief by US, British and South African Intelligence Happened 60 Years Ago Today 

[Consortium News, via Naked Capitalism 9-19-2021]