Sunday, September 6, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 6, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 6, 2020
by Tony Wikrent

RIP David Graeber

David Graeber, Caustic Critic of Inequality, Is Dead at 59
[New York Times 9-4-20]

Anthropologist David Graeber, the man behind ‘We are the 99%’ slogan, dead at 59
[RT, via Mike Norman Economics 9-3-20]

Graeber's 2001 book, Debt: The First 5000 Years, ruthlessly slaughtered one of the most sacred cows of mainstream economic orthodoxy -- that barter was the first means of economic transactions. Graeber conclusively marshaled the archaeological and anthropological evidence that debt older than both barter and cash. Unsurprisingly, orthodox economists have ignored Graeber's work to this day. 

R.I.P. David Graeber
Ian Welsh, September 5, 2020
At age 59, he had probably another 10 years and two or three books, possibly important, in him. 
De Gaulle quipped that “the graveyards are full of indispensable (people)” and mostly he’s right, most people’s deaths don’t matter much to anyone who didn’t know them. Someone will replace them who will do about as good a job. But an intellectual or artist worthy of the name is, in some sense, indispensable. There are works they will not do, and if they don’t do them no one will. 
I didn’t know Graeber, and I can’t claim to be personally sad. But he had important work still to be done, and no one will do it now. And without him to defend Debt from its attackers, it will lose luster and importance (because it’s the sort of book which must be destroyed by status-quo defenders, as it suggests capitalism is not what it claims to be.)
Manners, Deference, and Private Property: Or, Elements for a General Theory of Hierarchy
pdf, by David Graeber, 2007

Strategic Political Economy

Oligarchy and Democracy From the Civil War to the Present
Bill Moyers interview of Heather Cox Richardson, August 3, 2020 [CommonDreams]
Yes, the Civil War brought an end to the slave order of the South and the rule of the plantation oligarchs who embodied white supremacy. But the Northern victory was short lived — Southern ideals spread quickly to the West.
HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: And in that West, they discover a land that is already susceptible to the idea of racial and gendered hierarchies, because it has its own history of them. And it’s a place out there where the new American system happens to be a really fertile ground for the Confederate ideology to rise again. And that’s exactly what happens with the extractive industries in the West that encouraged the heavily capitalized cattle markets, for example, or mining industries, or later oil, or even agribusiness. You have in the West a development of an economy and, later on, a society that looks very much like the pre-Civil War South. And over the course of the late 19th century, that becomes part of the American mythology, with the idea that you have the cowboy in the West who really stands against what Southerners and Northern Democrats believe is happening in Eastern society, that a newly active government is using its powers to protect African Americans and this is a redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to populations that are simply looking for a government handout. That’s language that rises in 1871, and that is still obviously important in our political discourse.... 
But the image that has obtained in our textbooks and in our popular culture is the American cowboy, who is beginning to dominate American popular culture by 1866. And that cowboy — a single man, because women are in the cowboy image only as wives and mothers, or as women above the saloons in their striped stockings serving liquor and other things — is a male image of single white men. Although, again, historically a third of cowboys were people of color. It’s a single white man working hard on their own, who don’t want anything from the government. Again, historically inaccurate. The government puts more energy into the American plains than it does any other region of the country. But– 
BILL MOYERS: And also on land that had been taken from Mexico after the Mexican-American War, and on land that had been stolen from the Native Americans after genocide. I mean, it’s this whole notion of, “I’m free to roam the land and become a self-made hero,” which was the cowboys’ image to those of us growing up in the ’30s and ’40s, was really a bastard idea. 
HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: And part of that bastard idea, though, was so interesting. Because it is, in part, the Indian Wars of the Civil War and immediate post-war years that helped to both create the image of the cowboy, but also reinforce the idea that a few white men belong above subordinate groups like the Indigenous people, like Mexicans or Mexican Americans. Like Chinese Americans, like Fiji islanders, about whom they care very much in the late 19th century. And that racial hierarchy and gendered hierarchy really gets tied into the image of the American cowboy. And popularized with this backlash against activism in the East, trying to help African Americans adjust to the new free labor economy. But that image becomes enormously important after 1880. Because in 1880, the South goes solidly Democratic. And, of course, in retrospect, we now know it’s going to stay Democratic for a very, very long time, indeed. But they don’t know that at the time. But what Republicans do note is that they must pick up Western votes if they’re going to continue to dominate the White House and the Senate. After 1888, when we get the installment of Benjamin Harrison in the White House, he loses the popular vote by about 100,000 votes. But he’s installed thanks to the Electoral College. The Republicans under Harrison between 1889 and 1890, they let in six new states in 12 months. That was the largest acquisition of new states in American history since the original 13 and it’s never been matched again. They let in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, and then Idaho and Wyoming to go ahead and make sure that they would continue to control the Senate, and the Electoral College. And they’re not hiding this. They actually go onto their media which is their equivalent of the Fox News channel at the time and say, by letting in these states, we’re going to hold onto the Senate for all time and we’re going to make sure we hold onto the White House for all time. [So, the electoral college, a relic of appeasing slaveholders during the founding, is given new life.] But what that does is it begins to shift the idea of that human freedom. All of a sudden, the Republican Party, which has tried to continue to argue that it is standing in favor of equality, although that’s negotiable. After 1888 and the admission of those new states, the Republican Party’s got to start adopting that racially charged language in order to get the West on board. And that begins the change in American history that leads to a later union between the West and the South around this idea that really white men ought to be in charge. It’s not just a Southern thing. It’s a Western thing as well. And they make up a voting bloc in Congress that manages to change a lot of the legislation of the 20th century.
The Principle Of Elite Consequences
Ian Welsh, September 3 2020
People with money and power run our societies. The Princeton/Northwestern oligarchy study found that what they want is what matters, and that the opinions of the rest of us don’t matter. If they are not subject to how a part of society operates, they don’t care if it runs well and it will run badly (or in a way that profits them, generally the same thing.) 
The justice system, for the rich and powerful, works well. They have good counsel, because they can afford it. They can afford bail. They generally go to minimum security prison is they happen to be indicted, and most of their crimes they are never charged with, as was the case in widespread fraud leading up to the financial crisis or the robo-signing fraud used to steal people’s houses afterwards. (At most they pay fines, which are less than the value of what they stole.) 
The security system at airports is hell. But rich people don’t go thru it, they fly in private jets. The medical system in the US is bad and overpriced for most people. But it’s very very good if your rich or powerful. America has been at war for almost 20 years now, but American elites don’t care, because they and their children don’t fight in it.... 
Covid-19 is not a problem, because it mostly kills poor people and minorities and it’s making the rich much much richer, getting rid of their competition among small business-owners.
If you want something to work well powerful and rich people must be forced to use it. They must have the same experience as ordinary people. 
It takes an especially bad dose of capitalist ideology (or aristocratic or oligarchic ideology) to not get this point. If the powerful aren’t affected by how they run society (except to get richer and more powerful); if they don’t experience how the society runs for ordinary people, then society will be shit, AND if you want society to be good you can’t allow rich and powerful people to opt out of ordinary experiences. 
They must have the same health care as everyone else, including the same odds of not receiving care, being bankrupt by it or getting bad care. They must go thru the security lines at airports and be groped. Their kids must have the same odds of having shitty schools. They must have the same odds of dying of Covid-19.... If you cannot follow this reasoning you are suffering from a very bad case of ideological poisoning or you identify with the class of the rich and powerful.

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

Rebuilding the Economy Will Require Joe Biden to Think Very Differently Than 2009
James K. Galbraith, September 1 2020 [The Intercept]
Galbraith succinctly describes how the epidemic has fundamentally altered economic reality -- and why a national economy based on consumer spending will not, can not, recover.
THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC has changed our economy for the long term... The decision, by millions of anxious Americans each acting in their own best interest — to eat and play at home, to save more and spend less, to protect their health and to hang on for as long as possible — creates an economic problem that cannot be palliated by money alone. This is not the postwar America of competitive consumerism and pent-up demand on which the magic of Maynard Keynes worked so well.... 
The outlines of that something else are only just coming into view. Some of the basic elements are the following:
  1. The sectors producing advanced capital goods for world markets, energy for domestic use, weapons, and the construction sector must be mobilized, as if in a wartime effort, to a new set of purposes. These should aim at sustainable energy, mitigation of climate change, public health, and the reconstruction of life itself around safe and sustainable patterns of activity. Renewed infrastructure of all types, new transportation systems, new amenities, natural conservation, and cultural investments are all parts of this challenge. The Green New Deal is now doubly necessary, not only to transform the energy basis of the economy, but also to ensure that there is an economy to be transformed.
  2. For the many millions who cannot find jobs in the private sector, there must be a job guarantee for all seeking to work, at a modest living wage, in the public sector. The pandemic has cut not only services jobs, but also office jobs and construction, so that nearly 40 million American workers have been displaced. Many will not be called back even if their employers survive. Yet there is work enough for everyone: in teaching, in caring, in public health, in parks and libraries, in art and culture, in maintaining our communities, and in providing food and housing and other basic services to those in need, and if the jobs are made available, people will sign up for them by the millions.
  3. Service providers must be restructured so they can be sustained at reduced volumes. They must get loans on easy terms to reconfigure their physical layout to protect both customers and workers. But they also need assistance in meeting their costs. Cooperative private-public ownership and partial municipalization of service firms, with local government getting support from the federal government, is one promising path. In Germany, small businesses got a share of their costs covered by their localities, and so can survive, whereas in the U.S. they are failing.
  4. Manufacturing capacity sufficient to meet the basic requirements of public health and sustenance must be rebuilt on domestic soil, so as to be immune from the disruptions to trade associated with the pandemic or other threats to global supply chains. We cannot be caught again, as we were this spring and summer, unable to provide basic protective equipment to health care workers and indeed to the whole population. For this purpose, a new structure of financing will be required, a Health Finance Corporation along the lines of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation that operated from 1932 to 1956.
  5. Public health must be reconstructed, accessible to all at no out-of-pocket cost. This call goes beyond the conventional discussion of public options and single-payer schemes to recognize that Covid-19 has created a financial crisis for America’s health care sector. Like everything else in America, health care is a business. And as the economy has fallen, reducing accidents and other infectious diseases, and as elective procedures have been postponed, providers are seeing fewer people, so that — like every other form of business — many hospitals and clinics cannot cover their costs. The solution is to make the health care sector cooperative, to assure that appropriate services are available to all. Indeed Spain and Ireland nationalized all health care services in the pandemic....
  • 7. Ultimately, since these debts are also the assets of those who lent the money, the reality is that a successful economy after Covid-19 requires a redistribution of financial wealth. If the pandemic is to be defeated, and if a viable social order is to emerge in the aftermath, the balance sheets of American households will have to be rewritten to carry a burden of debt that is manageable, given less market activity and lower market incomes. This means that the assets of the wealthy, as well as the debts of the overburdened, will have to be written down. There must be a general redistribution from creditors to debtors, reversing the trend of the past 40 years. The redistribution, by the way, will occur. It can be done through a decade of depression, as in the 1930s, or two decades of inflation, as in the 1960s, or it can be done by sensible restructuring and debt relief, as was done in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
  • 8. Finally, with a widespread write-down of debts and assets, the financial sector must be restructured, since that sector holds many of the assets that will lose value. The ultimate financial consequences of this pandemic are not yet clear, and where the weak points of the financial system will emerge is still somewhat obscure. But it is certain that those weak points exist and when they are exposed, they will prove profound. The big banks that cannot make it can be taken over and run as public utilities....
It is therefore a delusion to think that markets will restore us to well-being on their own. It is a delusion to think that the mere injection of money, however great and generous and however needed for the short run, will bring back the happy mix of jobs and incomes we’ve just lost. It is a delusion to think that the easy methods of the postwar economists, whose ideas have dominated liberal thought and response to economic crises for 70 years now, will work in the face of the Covid-19 challenge. The path forward requires planning and action on a far larger scale. It requires skills, imagination, local knowledge, commitment, and mobilization that resemble — but actually surpass — those brought to bear in the New Deal.
Unless the Biden Team changes its personnel and /or thinking soon, Biden will be unable to reverse the accelerating collapse of the USA economy. Biden says he recognizes the pandemic requires a response as transformative as Franklin Roosevelt's response to the First Great Depression, but NOTHING coming out of Biden's campaign -- and certainly not his campaign's staffing with aged members of the Obama Alumnus Club and their tired, old ideas -- yet indicates that transformative thinking is actually taking place.  Avedon points to Biden's blog post of mid-September as an shrieking alarm in the night: 

"Joe Biden's Platform for 2020: Anti-Populism: By criticizing the views of both Berniecrats and Trumpites, Biden is positioning himself as the antidote to populism in all its forms and flavors."
[Politico, 9-23-20, via Avedon's Sidewhow]
Though Biden’s essay was largely ignored amid the constant hum of Trump-related stories, it made a bit of news in wonk circles because Biden used it to announce his opposition to a “universal basic income,” .... Biden criticized the “Silicon Valley executives” who have championed universal basic income for “selling American workers short” and undermining the “dignity” of work. He recoiled at rhetoric, often wielded by Senator Bernie Sanders and his acolytes, that demonizes corporations (“Some want to single out big corporations for all the blame. … But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy.”) And he cut against the prevailing sentiment among Trump-friendly working-class whites that not everyone should go to college: “Cognitive capacity—as opposed to brawn—continues to become a surer path to climb that ladder into the middle class.”
Avedon asked: "Why should anyone vote for this?"

The Biden campaign is instructing volunteers NOT to talk about policy.
[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 9-1-20]
Prof Zenkus
@anthonyzenkus
The Biden campaign is instructing volunteers NOT to talk about policy.
12:48 PM · Aug 31, 2020·Twitter for Android


Dear Joe: Please read at least the preamble of the Constitution -- there is a MANDATE to Promote the General Welfare. So, yeah, we want to know your policies....

David Sirota, August 20, 2020 [via Avedon's Sidewhow]
Biden's top adviser made a hugely important declaration -- and almost nobody noticed it. The Democratic convention has sucked up all the political oxygen in America — so much so, that most people missed Team Biden signaling that it may back off the entire agenda it is campaigning on. This monumental declaration went almost completely unnoticed for an entire day — which is a genuinely disturbing commentary on how the biggest of big political news gets routinely ignored. To review the situation: earlier this month, Bloomberg News reported that Biden's 'campaign rolled out a $3.5 trillion economic program over the past month' — one that 'promises to invest in clean energy and caregiving, buy more made-in-America goods, and start narrowing the country's racial wealth gaps.' This, said the news service, was proof that Biden no longer adhered to an ideology of austerity and deficit hawkery — which would be good news. But then on the eve of Biden's convention speech, the Democratic nominee's top aide suggested to Washington reporters that, in fact, that's not true. [...] Economist Dean Baker goes over exactly how destructive and insane this ideology is. As he says: 'The idea that we would not address pressing needs, like climate change, child care, and health care because we are concerned about the debt burden is close to crazy. As long as the economy is not near its capacity, there is zero reason not to spend to address these priorities.' I encourage you to read his piece. [...] This is not the first time there's been silence on stuff like this — less than a month ago Biden explicitly promised his Wall Street donors that despite his public campaign promises, he will not be pushing new legislation to change corporate behavior. That happened and it basically went unreported. You didn't see it on MSNBC or hear it on NPR. You didn't see it anywhere, except for right here at TMI (this is the kind of reporting you are supporting when you become a subscriber). [...] Nathan Tankus reacts to the Biden statement: 'This is completely unacceptable. I don't want a qanon president in 2024. The fiscal policy we need is much greater than short term stimulus and committing to 'long run' austerity is horrendous and amounts to a commitment to cut medicare and social security.'"
[World Economic Forum, via Naked Capitalism 9-4-20]
The decline of upward mobility in one chart

".... A more perfect union ... Promote the General Welfare..." Read the damn thing....

The Fed Provides an Unlimited Money Lifeline to Wall Street; 30 Million Americans Facing Eviction Get a No-Money 4-Month Plan
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, September 3, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]
On Tuesday, the CDC issued an order that bans landlords from evicting tenants that cannot afford to pay rent due to a pandemic-related job loss or income reduction. The CDC action follows an executive action from President Donald Trump on August 8 that ordered the CDC to study the eviction issue....
The plan has a multitude of defects, including the following:
(1) It’s more of a Disney-themed band-aid instead of a plan. It lasts for just four months to December 31, 2020.
(2) It provides no monetary assistance to help the renter pay the piling up rent on December 31 – effectively guaranteeing eviction at the start of the year in millions of cases.
(3) It provides no assistance to the small landlord who may be facing foreclosure because he can’t pay his own mortgage on the building. According to a recent study published by The Aspen Institute “mom and pop landlords own 22.7 million out of 48.5 million rental units in the housing market, more than half (58%) do not have access to any lines of credit that might help them in an emergency.”
(4) It provides no help to out-of-work homeowners who are facing foreclosure. On June 29, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020 that provides $100 billion for emergency rental assistance programs and a $75 billion relief fund for homeowners. The Republican-controlled Senate has refused to pass the legislation.
(5) It does nothing to stop landlords from evicting tenants (who can’t afford a lawyer to challenge the eviction) on dubious charges of loud noise, damage to the premises, or other potentially false claims.
The CDC’s plan for struggling Americans falls strikingly short of the Federal Reserve’s instant outpouring of monetary support for Wall Street for the second time in 12 years. In the first iteration, which lasted from December 2007 to July 2010, the Fed pumped $29 trillion cumulatively in revolving loans at below-market rates to prop up insolvent or teetering banks and trading houses on Wall Street. The crisis was of Wall Street’s own making by creating toxic derivatives and subprime mortgage products....
That aid to Wall Street came as millions of Americans saw their homes foreclosed on by the same banks receiving the handouts from the Fed. (See Financial Crash Analysis: $22.6 Billion in Homeowner Relief; $7.8 Trillion to Four Wall Street Banks.)
The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis” 
[The Aspen Institute, via Wall Street on Parade 9-3-20]

Investors Have Stampeded Out of Stock Funds for Two Weeks – So How Did the Stock Market Set a New High Every Day Last Week?
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, August 31, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

Wall Street’s Felon Banks to Go Live with their Own Stock Exchange this Month
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, September 2, 2020 [Wall Street on Parade]

The Lesson Americans Never Learn
[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-20]
America insists on repeating this lesson over and over and over again, never really learning it: No amount of private initiative or donor generosity can or will ever do what the government can. First, individuals, nonprofits, and companies simply don’t have the resources to provide public services at scale. A majority of GoFundMes do not reach their stated fundraising goal, with many never raising any money at all. Despite all those campaigns to save restaurants and bars, Yelp reported that 140,000 businesses listed on its service have closed since the pandemic recession started, many never to reopen; saving them would likely have required billions of dollars. Americans rack up nearly $90 billion in medical debt every year, more than twice the amount given to health-related charities.
Promote the General Welfare ... that's what the Constitution says -- twice!

Republicans Working on the Least They Can Possibly Do
David Dayen, September 4, 2020 [The American Prospect]
The second-to-last jobs report before the election would sound really great if you were airlifted in from the International Space Station after a year of isolation.... The report is indicative of a country where the rich have completely cleaved themselves off from the rest of society. As Tim Noah writes, the prediction that we were living in a plutonomy, a nation of, by, and for the 1 percent, has now come to pass. You can have an economy without caring about the welfare of an exceedingly large section of the population, if you just shut your eyes. Food bank participation and the stock market are nearing record highs, simultaneously. Threat of eviction and rental debt has never been this elevated, and neither have bank profits from investments and trading. You either have it or you don’t. 
So expecting a bunch of haves in the Senate Republican caucus to figure out how to prevent disaster for the have-nots might be a foolish enterprise.
Does this look like promoting the General Welfare? 
Timothy Noah, September 3, 2020 [The New Republic, via The American Prospect] 
All this has me thinking back to a term, “plutonomy,” that was in vogue a decade ago, when the U.S. workforce was still struggling to recover from the Great Recession of 2007–9. As I noted at the time (“Brooks Brothers Bolshevism,” September 24, 2011), the word “plutonomy” sounded like agitprop straight out of The Daily Worker. But this cartoonish term was coined by three Citigroup analysts to describe a U.S. economy in which the bottom 99 percent in the income distribution had, for all practical purposes, ceased to participate.

“Economic growth is powered by and largely consumed by the wealthy few,” the Citibank study declared. “The earth is being held up by the muscular arms of its entrepreneur-plutocrats.” Although they sounded like sansculottes, the Citibank analysts were actually pro-plutonomy—that is to say, they were advising rich people not to invest in anything that depended too much on the well-being of the great unwashed....
What if the Citibank sansculottes were right that the welfare of 99 percent of the population simply doesn’t matter to the masters of the market, and that the economy exists entirely apart from such sentimental considerations? In other words, what if the stock market really is the economy? Once you entertain this dismal proposition you start seeing evidence for it everywhere....
Gerald F. Davis, in The Vanishing American Corporation (2016), sees the corporate consolidation of recent years as a sign not of strength but of weakness. Corporations have become the playthings of hedge fund managers and other Wall Street predators, and are reduced to measuring their strength not in how many people they employ but how few. Nicholas Lemann makes a similar argument in his 2019 book, Transaction Man, relating how the banking sector, stripped of its powers in the 1930s and held in abeyance through the corporate ascendancy of the 1950s and 1960s, reestablished dominance in the 1980s and swallowed the economy whole. To the extent that corporations hold power today, it’s only as proxies for the financial sector.

Remember the argument that the American consumer was the the buyer of last resort? Well, since the elites have steered us into plutonomy, that's no longer true. But, they have an alternative....

[McKinsey & Co., September 3, 2020, via Mike Norman Economics 9-1-20]
Felix Poh: The word that comes to mind is resilience. When I survey the Chinese economy, when I talk to many of my consumer clients, they have made a near-full recovery in top line versus 2019. Obviously, it varies by sector, but in many cases, particularly for my multinational clients, they are leading growth for their companies worldwide. And other markets are looking to China as that glimmer of hope, in terms of what the recovery could look like after the large-scale outbreak. So I would say, overall, it’s a hopeful place to be in China in mid-2020. 
Daniel Zipser: If I were to pick one word to describe the state of the Chinese consumer, I would say, “confident.” I did find the last six months remarkable—to see how, back when the crisis hit in late January, the whole country stood together. I was very touched. The consumer now is coming out of the crisis and feeling a sense of pride and confidence that they have mastered it as a country; many Chinese would say that China has mastered the crisis better than other places in the world. You do see a confidence, which is also translating into spending.
Douglas Rushkoff [OneZero , via Naked Capitalism 9-3-20]
I remember back around 1990, when psychedelics philosopher Timothy Leary first read Stewart Brand’s book The Media Lab, about the new digital technology center MIT had created in its architecture department. Leary devoured the book cover to cover over the course of one long day. Around sunset, just as he was finishing, he threw it across the living room in disgust. “Look at the index,” he said, “of all the names, less than 3% are women. That’ll tell you something.” 
He went on to explain his core problem with the Media Lab and the digital universe these technology pioneers were envisioning: “They want to recreate the womb.” As Leary the psychologist saw it, the boys building our digital future were developing technology to simulate the ideal woman — the one their mothers could never be. Unlike their human mothers, a predictive algorithm could anticipate their every need in advance and deliver it directly, removing every trace of friction and longing. These guys would be able to float in their virtual bubbles — what the Media Lab called “artificial ecology” — and never have to face the messy, harsh reality demanded of people living in a real world with women and people of color and even those with differing views....
I can’t help but see the dismantling of the Post Office as a last-ditch attempt to keep the majority from piercing the bubbles of digital privilege through something as simple as voting. Climb to safety and then pull the ladder up after ourselves. No more voting, no more subsidized delivery of alternative journalism (that was the original constitutional purpose for a fully funded post office).
Hotel Industry Remains On Brink of Collapse 
[American Hotel and Lodging Association , via Naked Capitalism 9-1-20]
  1. 4 Out of 10 Hotel Employees Are Still Not Working: At the peak of the pandemic, nearly nine in ten hotels had to lay off or furlough workers, and the hospitality and leisure industry lost 7.5 M jobs. Despite small gains in employment in May and June driven largely by restaurants and bars reopening, the leisure and hospitality sector is still down 4.3M jobs since February. The accommodations sector is left with a devastating unemployment rate of 38% compared to the national average of 10.2%. 
  2. Almost 2/3 (65%) of Hotels Remain at or Below 50% Occupancy. That’s Below the Threshold at Which Most Hotels Can Break-Even and Pay Debt: While leisure travelers have increased average hotel occupancy since the historic low of 24.5% in April, thousands of hotels are at risk of closure or are unable to hire back staff due to continuing, drastically low hotel occupancy rates. 
  3. Consumer Travel Remains at All-Time Low: Only 33% of Americans say they have traveled overnight for leisure or vacation since March, and only 38% say they are likely to do so by the end of the year. 
  4. Industry’s Leading Employers – Urban Hotels – Face Collapse with Cripplingly Low Occupancies: Urban hotels are major employers due to their size. But these properties are faring significantly worse than the national average, with an occupancy rate of just 38%. Jobs at urban hotels are unlikely to return without either a dramatic increase in occupancy – which is unlikely – or additional Congressional action.

Meanwhile, Trump is outflanking Biden, just like he did to Clinton in 2016

Now in Government Food Aid Boxes: A Letter From Donald Trump
[ProPublica, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-20]

Trump Signs Historical OTC Hearing Device Bill, Slashing Hearing Device Prices By 90%! 
[Aidion, via Naked Capitalism 9-2-20]

“CDC Issues Sweeping Temporary Halt On Evictions Nationwide Amid Pandemic” 
[NPR, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-2-20] 
“The Trump administration is ordering a halt on evictions nationwide through December for people who have lost work during the pandemic and don’t have other good housing options. The new eviction ban is being enacted through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, which the agency says in its order ‘presents a historic threat to public health.’ It’s by far the most sweeping move yet by the administration to try to head off a looming wave of evictions of people who have lost their jobs or taken a major blow to their income because of the pandemic. But this new ban, which doesn’t offer any way for landlords to recoup unpaid rent, is being met with a mixed response. First, many housing advocates are very happy to see it…. Landlords are worried about falling off a cliff too… Under the rules of the order, renters have to sign a declaration saying they don’t make more than $99,000 a year — or twice that if filing a joint tax return — and that they have no other option if evicted other than homelessness or living with more people in close proximity. Evictions for reasons other than nonpayment of rent will be allowed.”
Lambert Strether observes:  
So it’s means-tested. That means liberal Democrats should love it, even if it is a ginormous norms violation. Smart move by Trump: (A) He’s doing something, and while Congress is on vacation, too; (B) it’s a concrete material benefit, even if not entirely universal; (C) it gives the CDC a big boost, which it needs from its many blunders during the crisis; (D) it totally steals the Democrat’s already threadbare clothes on working class advocacy. Naturally, the details will be all screwed up, it being Trump, but it’s still a smart move. “What did Nancy Pelosi do on evictions, Joe? Open her fridge to the homeless?” 

Pelosi and Mnuchin agree on plan to avoid government shutdown
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 9-4-20]

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Two cognitive tendencies help explain why low-income voters often oppose the redistribution of wealth 
[PsyPost , via Naked Capitalism 9-2-20]
The Fintech Debt Trap
[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 8-31-20]
By the end of last year, Americans had racked up nearly $4.2 trillion in consumer debt, not including mortgage debt — a record high. The greatest contributor to this surge was not credit card spending or student debt or auto loans, but something newer and, for many borrowers, even riskier: high-interest personal loans, increasingly offered by online financial technology companies known as “fintechs.” 
These fintech firms have eclipsed banks and other traditional credit suppliers to become the nation’s No. 1 source of personal loans — the kind of loans people take out when they need extra cash to stay afloat, or when they have already amassed large amounts of debt and are looking to refinance. At the end of 2019, an unprecedented 20.8 million Americans owed money on at least one personal loan — more than one-third of which came from a fintech company....

Moreover, Trump administration banking officials have begun to deregulate the industry. Those rule changes are poised to vault already aggressive lending into overdrive, capitalizing on desperation.

In late May, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates federally chartered banks, finalized a rule that would supercharge the online lending industry by bowling over the state interest rate limits that currently protect consumers. In June, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation finalized an equivalent rule that would cover the state-chartered financial institutions that currently dominate the online lending industry.
The attorneys general of California, New York, and Illinois have sued the OCC, contending that its rule violates federal banking law and other statutes, “and would facilitate predatory lending.” If those rules stand, borrowers in many states will face even higher interest rates than they do today, with state regulators powerless to stop them. A second lawsuit targets the FDIC rule.
[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 8-30-20]
A trove of documents reveal how the company at the center of the opioid crisis moved billions to companies registered in Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, and Delaware in the years prior to declaring bankruptcy. 

Neoliberalism requires a police state

Prosecutors Are Using Gang Laws to Criminalize Protest 
[Oregon Public Broadcasting, via Naked Capitalism 9-4-20]

Trump’s vision of the world is getting more and more conspiratorial. Tonight in an interview with Fox News Channel personality Laura Ingraham, he claimed that “people that are in the dark shadows” are controlling Biden. He claimed this weekend there was an airplane full of “thugs” in “black uniforms,” out “to do big damage.” When Ingraham pressed for more information, he said: “I’ll tell you sometime but it’s under investigation.” Ingraham said: “That sounds like conspiracy theory.” 
To push these ideas, Trump and his people are deliberately constructing a false narrative.
Trump’s YouTube channel is now home to a video featured at the Republican National Convention on Monday, showing rioting and a city in flames and implying those scenes are America in the past several months. In the film, one sister tells another that “This is a taste of Biden’s America,” as photos and videos of violence play. “The rioting, the crime. Freedom is at stake now and this is going to be the most important election of our lifetime.” In fact, the video is from Barcelona, Spain, in 2019.... 
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise tweeted a video that spliced together footage from an conversation between Biden and progressive activist Ady Barkan, who speaks with an artificial voice because he has ALS. The video added words to what Barkan actually said to make it sound as if the two were agreeing to defund police departments (in fact, Biden has proposed to increase police funding to include more money for “social workers, psychologists, people who in fact can handle those god-awful problems that a cop has to have four degrees to handle”). To the video, Scalise added "No police. Mob rule. Total chaos. That's the result of the Democrat agenda."....
Today, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications and Director of Social Media Dan Scavino also posted a manipulated video, this one supposedly showing Biden falling asleep during a live television interview. But it was a mix of an old video of singer Harry Belafonte, apparently napping before an interview while technical glitches were worked out, and Biden looking downward for a moment. Twitter had to break out another warning, and Belafonte simply said: “They keep stooping lower and lower. A technical glitch in an interview I did nine years ago now becomes another one of their lies, more of their fake news. I beg every sane American: please vote them out. I knew many who gave their life for the right to vote. Never has it been so vital to exercise that right.” 
The Trump campaign wasn’t done yet, though: on Monday it also tweeted a clip of Biden saying “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” But in fact, when he said that, Biden was quoting the president and vice president. The full quotation was: “Trump and Pence are running on this, and I find it fascinating: Quote, 'You won't be safe in Joe Biden's America.' And what's their proof? The violence we're seeing in Donald Trump's America.”
[NBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-4-20]  
“A report being released Thursday, obtained in advance by NBC News, found active shooter drills in schools correlated with a 42 percent increase in anxiety and stress and a 39 percent increase in depression among those in the school community, including students, teachers and parents, based on their social media posts… The report, released by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, relied on research from Georgia Tech’s Social Dynamics and Wellbeing Lab, which analyzed 27.9 million tweets and 1,454 Reddit posts that came from accounts with connections to 114 schools in 33 states that held active shooter drills in the 2018-19 academic year. The researchers examined changes in social media posts in the 90 days before and after a drill. The higher rates of anxiety and depression were evidenced by an increase in words such as ‘afraid,’ ‘struggling,’ ‘nervous,’ ‘therapy’ and ‘suicidal.'” 
Lambert Strether adds: "These aren’t bugs; they’re features. School as preparation for life, eh?"

Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement: The government’s response to known connections of law enforcement officers to violent racist and militant groups has been strikingly insufficient.
[Brennan Center for Justice, via The Big Picture 8-30-20]

White supremacists and militias have infiltrated police across US: A former FBI agent has documented links between serving officers and racist militant activities in more than a dozen states
[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 8-30-20]


"White Vigilantes Have Always Had A Friend In Police
[Huffington Post, August 28, 2020, via Avedon's Sidewhow]
New data shows that far-right vigilantes, often with support from cops, have threatened protesters nearly 500 times since police killed George Floyd [...] The dataset, which Ross shared with HuffPost, documents a staggering amount of violence directed at protesters by the far-right, including 64 cases of simple assault, 38 incidents of vigilantes driving cars into demonstrators, and nine times shots were fired at protesters. All told, six protesters were hit by vigilante bullets in this summer's violence. Three died from their wounds. Ross' dataset also includes 387 incidents of intimidation, such as people using racist slurs, making threats and brandishing firearms. 'There just isn't really anything to compare it to,' Ross told HuffPost. 'I've never seen anything like this in my life.' "

Information Age Dystopia

Why Jeff Bezos Is Worth $200 Billion 
Matt Stoller, August 29, 2020 [BIG]
You really need to read the entire article to understand the full scope of how insidious and dangerous Amazon's legal strategy is. 
Today I’m writing about what distinguishes Amazon from other companies. It is not what one might expect, which is Amazon’s innovative business model, but the corporation’s political savvy in exploiting our our weakened political system. Bezos’s $200 billion fortune is built on a corporation that knows how to use politics to destroy its competition.... Last week, Amazon made an interesting political moves to tackle defective product sales, seeking to change not only its own business, but also the laws that governs liability for defective products....
Huseman, recognizing that Amazon will have take responsibility for what it sold, in turned asked the legislature to apply strict liability to anyone remotely connected to selling things online. Not only should Amazon be held liable for products its merchants sell, wrote Huseman, but all online platforms or websites should be liable, not just for helping to place products into the marketplace but under any business model. The ultimate language of the legislation included not only placing products into the marketplace, but ‘facilitating’ the placing of such products into the marketplace.
Third, Amazon isn’t the same as any other online marketplace, it isn’t really an online marketplace at all. Amazon’s infrastructure investments and control over its supply chains and merchants is unparalleled. Amazon has its own ships, airplanes, warehouses, trucks, and postal system, and is perhaps the single most important logistics player in America. Amazon has even patented a way to understand and regulate the entire supply chain of everything that anyone selling through Amazon. Amazon is clearly integral to the marketplace and can control the stream of commerce in a way that few others can. 
In other words, what started as a bill to make sure Amazon would be held liable for defective products it sold, essentially codifying a court case that already made that happen, has now turned into a legal weapon Amazon can use against its competitors, who have nothing remotely like the level of control over the stream of commerce that Amazon has, or the ability to deploy resources to organize it.
Amazon Removes Job Listings For Intelligence Analyst To Track ‘Labor Organizing Threats’ 
[Harpers, via The Big Picture 9-5-20]
These companies are the most powerful middlemen in history. Each guards the gate to innumerable sources of essential information, services, and products. 
The Hidden World of Legacy IT

Disrupting mainstream economics

[Economics from the Top Down, via Naked Capitalism 8-30-20] 
“What we really need, then, is not so much a theory of money, but a theory of why people misunderstand money.”
“The appallingly bad neoclassical economics of climate change” 
Steve Keen [Globalization, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-2-20] 
“Forecasts by economists of the economic damage from climate change have been notably sanguine, compared to warnings by scientists about damage to the biosphere. This is because economists made their own predictions of damages, using three spurious methods: assuming that about 90% of GDP will be unaffected by climate change, because it happens indoors; using the relationship between temperature and GDP today as a proxy for the impact of global warming over time; and using surveys that diluted extreme warnings from scientists with optimistic expectations from economists. Nordhaus has misrepresented the scientific literature to justify the using a smooth function to describe the damage to GDP from climate change. Correcting for these errors makes it feasible that the economic damages from climate change are at least an order of magnitude worse than forecast by economists, and may be so great as to threaten the survival of human civilization.” 

Disrupting mainstream politics

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 9-5-20]
The prime minister, Boris Johnson, has accused Extinction Rebellion of seeking “to limit the public’s access to news” after the group blockaded two UK printworks, delaying the distribution of major national newspapers. 
The activists, who staged the action to highlight the failure by the media to “report on the climate and ecological emergency”, were also condemned by the home secretary, Priti Patel, for “attacking democracy”. More than 100 protesters used vehicles and bamboo structures to block roads outside the Newsprinters printing works at Broxbourne, in Hertfordshire, and Knowsley, near Liverpool, on Friday evening.

Democratic Party leadership insists on suicide

Exclusive: Dem group warns of apparent Trump Election Day landslide 
[Axios , via Naked Capitalism 9-1-20]
A top Democratic data and analytics firm told "Axios on HBO" it's highly likely that President Trump will appear to have won — potentially in a landslide — on election night, even if he ultimately loses when all the votes are counted.

Why this matters: Way more Democrats will vote by mail than Republicans, due to fears of the coronavirus, and it will take days if not weeks to tally these. This means Trump, thanks to Republicans doing almost all of their voting in person, could hold big electoral college and popular vote leads on election night. 
Imagine America, with its polarization and misinformation, if the vote tally swings wildly toward Joe Biden and Trump loses days later as the mail ballots are counted.
[Boston Globe, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-3-20] 
“But, for the rising generation of progressive activists who helped return him to the Senate, Markey’s win sent a message: The restive left-wing is looking for champions, not just blood — and its passionate army of engaged young voters will rally to the defense of incumbents who partner with them and who embrace their causes.”
“Disdain for the Less Educated Is the Last Acceptable Prejudice” 
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-3-20]  
“Being untainted by the Ivy League credentials of his predecessors may enable Mr. Biden to connect more readily with the blue-collar workers the Democratic Party has struggled to attract in recent years. More important, this aspect of his candidacy should prompt us to reconsider the meritocratic political project that has come to define contemporary liberalism…. It is important to remember that most Americans — nearly two-thirds — do not have a four-year college degree. By telling workers that their inadequate education is the reason for their troubles, meritocrats moralize success and failure and unwittingly promote credentialism — an insidious prejudice against those who do not have college degrees. The credentialist prejudice is a symptom of meritocratic hubris. By 2016, many working people chafed at the sense that well-schooled elites looked down on them with condescension. This complaint was not without warrant. Survey research bears out what many working-class voters intuit: At a time when racism and sexism are out of favor (discredited though not eliminated), credentialism is the last acceptable prejudice.” 
[independent.co.uk, via Avedon's Sidewhow]
Exclusive: Democracy promotion group founded by Jimmy Carter will launch US-focused initiative for first time in its history. [...] 'We are now at a point where we have taken an institutional decision to explore some direct engagement on US election issues. And this is a departure from our whole history trying not to do that,' David Carroll, director of the centre's Democracy Programme, told The Independent. In the past, he added, the centre has prioritised countries where there is 'a significant potential for an important change in the quality of democracy', or where democracy is 'under severe threat'. 'Until the last 10 years, we wouldn't have thought of the US in that category. But it's been increasingly the view of the Carter Center that the state of democracy in the US has been eroding.'"

The Dark Side

[Politico, via The Big Picture 8-30-20]
Stuart Stevens was a winning GOP operative. Now he feels terrible about what he’s done to the country.... Stevens now believes the Republican Party is, not to put too fine a point on it, a malign force jeopardizing the survival of American democracy. He’s written a searing apologia of a book called It Was All a Lie that compares his lifelong party to the Mafia, to Bernie Madoff’s fraud scheme, to the segregationist movement, even to the Nazis. He’s pretty disillusioned....
STEVENS: I really don’t talk to most of those people. Look, I wanted to be careful not to make the book a bill of indictment against individuals, because that’s a cop-out. If I’m saying it’s a collective problem, and I want to start with personal responsibility. It’s countermessaging to say this person did this, that person did that. Look, these people know who they are. They all know Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. They all know something wrong has happened in the party. For the most part, they’re just quiet about it. You won’t hear them defend Trump except as a necessary evil.

You know, it really struck me when I read the memoir by [the late German Chancellor] Franz von Papen, it’s exactly the same message you hear today. In 1953, he was still trying to justify Hitler: “You have to understand, the Bolsheviks were a threat, we had to counter them.” Of all the books I read to write my book, the Franz von Papen thing haunts me the most. It’s not to say that what happened in Germany is going to happen here. But the idea that you can’t talk about that—well, I think you have to talk about that. The parallel is so striking.
So, it CAN happen here.... And Biden declares we''ll have none of that socialist "nonsense," Bill Clinton thanks Rep. Clymer for derailing the Sanders campaign.... "...were a threat, we had to counter them.” Umm, it IS happening here. 

The Trump Era Sucks and Needs to Be Over
Matt Taibbi, Sept. 3, 2020
Donald Trump is so unlike most people, and so especially unlike anyone raised under a conventional moral framework, that he’s perpetually misdiagnosed. The words we see slapped on him most often, like “fascist” and “authoritarian,” nowhere near describe what he really is, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. It’s been proven across four years that Trump lacks the attention span or ambition required to implement a true dictatorial regime. He might not have a moral problem with the idea, but two minutes into the plan he’d leave the room, phone in hand, to throw on a robe and watch himself on Fox and Friends over a cheeseburger. 
The elite misread of Trump is egregious because he’s an easily familiar type to the rest of America. We’re a sales culture and Trump is a salesman. Moreover he’s not just any salesman; he might be the greatest salesman ever, considering the quality of the product, i.e. himself. He’s up to his eyes in balls, and the parts of the brain that hold most people back from selling schlock online degrees or tchotchkes door-to-door are absent. He has no shame, will say anything, and experiences morality the way the rest of us deal with indigestion. 
Pundits keep trying to understand him by reading political scare-tracts like The Origins of Totalitarianism or It Can’t Happen Here, but again, the books that explain Trump better tend to be about things like pro wrestling (like Controversy Creates Cash or The Business of Kayfabe) or the psychology of selling (like Pre-Suasion or Thinking Fast and Slow). The people howling about outrageous things Trump says probably never sat in a sales meeting. In Pre-Suasion, psychology professor Robert Cialdini, who went undercover with salespeople to discover their secrets, describes how one got clients to agree to his company’s $75,000 fee: 
Instead, after his standard presentation… he joked, “As you can tell, I’m not going to be able to charge you a million dollars for this.” The client looked up from his written proposal and said, “Well, I can agree to that!” The meeting proceeded without a single subsequent reference to compensation and ended with a signed contract….
...Life under Trump has been like an endless Twitter war: infuriating, depressing, filling us all with self-loathing, but also addictive. He is selling an experience that everyone is buying, even the people who think they oppose him the most. 
My worry is with that last part. Institutional America is now organized around a Trump-led America. The news media will lose billions with him gone (and will be lost editorially). The Democratic Party has no message — literally none — apart from him. A surging activist movement will be deflated without him.... It feels like a co-dependent relationship, and the tightening poll numbers in battleground states make me wonder about self-sabotage. He’ll likely still lose, but this is all beginning to feel like a slow-motion rerun of the same car crash from four years ago, when resentment, rubbernecking, and lurid fascination pulled him just across the finish line. 

“Why Trump is Likely to Win Again” 
[Thomas Greene, Noteworthy, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-2-20] 
 “Trump will not be defeated by educating voters, by exposing his many foibles and inadequacies. Highlighting what’s wrong with him is futile; his supporters didn’t elect him because they mistook him for a competent administrator or a decent man. They’re angry, not stupid. Trump is an agent of disruption — indeed, of revenge. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has positioned him as a tragic force-multiplier on a scale that few could have predicted, and the result is verging on catastrophic. Still, that might not be enough to prevent his re-election. Workers now sense that economic justice — a condition in which labor and capital recognize and value each other — is permanently out of reach; the class war is over and it was an absolute rout: insatiable parasites control everything now, and even drain us gratuitously, as if exacting reparations for the money and effort they spent taming us. The economy itself, and the institutions protecting it, must be attacked, and actually crippled, to get the attention of the smug patricians in charge. Two decades of appealing to justice, proportion, and common decency have yielded nothing. I’d rather not see four more years of Donald, but I understand the impulse to use him as a cat’s paw.” ¨
Germany’s Far-Right Is Fired Up After Its Fantasy Almost Came True
[Vice, via Naked Capitalism 9-3-20]
For years, the storming of the Reichstag – the symbolic heart of German democracy – has been a cherished fantasy for the country’s far-right. On Saturday, it came perilously close to becoming a reality, fuelling a triumphalist mood among extremists and sparking fears that it could spur them on to more radical action.
The dramatic events took place in Berlin on Saturday, where an estimated 38,000 people – a ragtag mix of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, “sovereign citizens” and far-right extremists – had gathered in protest against coronavirus restrictions.
The rise of reactionary populism is occurring worldwide -- just like myself and others predicted in 2009 when it became undeniable that Obama and his people were not going to force Wall Street and the financial sector to account for their crimes, misdeeds, and greed. And Biden is relying on  the same damn people....

“Why Centrists No Longer Understand the World” 
[UKTribune, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-3-20] 
“For Anne Applebaum, whose work on Soviet-era history is so respected it landed her the Pulitzer Prize in 2004, it is not the past which is a foreign country, but the present. Her latest book, Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends, offers a snapshot of a political centre in disintegration…. One explanation for the book’s tepid diagnosis is that the scale of neoliberalism’s breakdown is lost on an esteemed historian and journalist insulated from its worst impacts. This would certainly explain why Applebaum can only comprehend the present conjuncture as the result of mass irrationality and moral failure…. Despite being both retrospectively naïve, and possessed of few insights regarding the future, as a pièce d’occasion for the 2020s Twilight of Democracy is instructive. When historians come to reflect on a centrist intelligentsia in befuddled disarray it will be an excellent resource.” 
Lambert Strether adds: 
It is the bifurcation of this previously solid status quo that haunts Applebaum, a shift extending beyond her adopted home to Russia, Western Europe and even the United States. Why, the author wonders, has this happened all at once? Conspicuously absent in the answer that follows – which focuses instead on personalities, the politics of nostalgia and digital culture – is the inability of the neoliberal model, specifically since 2008, to provide rising living standards. 

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