Sunday, September 20, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 20, 2020

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – September 20, 2020
by Tony Wikrent 

  If this is the last Wrap for a while, this is the reason: “Google, nobody asked for a new Blogger interface”  [TenFourFox Development, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-17-20]  
“I’m writing this post in what Google is euphemistically referring to as an improvement. I don’t understand this. I managed to ignore New Blogger for a few weeks but Google’s ability to fark stuff up has the same air of inevitability as rotting corpses…. 
When I copy and paste an entire post, such as from RealEconomics (where I write it using Blogger) to IanWelsh or into email for distribution ALL THE LINKS ARE DESTROYED ! ! ! !  They still appear as links, but the URLs all go to the Blogger page I am writing on. HOW DID THIS MAJOR PROBLEM GET THROUGH QUALITY CONTROL? Is there any Quality Control? This is beyond crappification. This renders the new Blogger useless! 

Strategic Political Economy

Frederick Soddy’s Debt Dynamics [Economics from the Top Down, via Naked Capitalism 9-13-20]
In the field of ecological economics, Frederick Soddy looms large. Born in 1877, Soddy became a chemist and eventually won a Nobel prize for work on radioactive decay. Then he turned his attention to economics. Between 1921 and 1934, Soddy wrote four books that looked at how money relates to the physical economy. For his ground-breaking work, Soddy was rewarded with deafening silence.... Like a good natural scientist, Soddy insisted that human society is constrained by the laws of physics. Humans survive, he noted, by consuming natural resources. Exhaust these resources and we’re done for.
Think of humans (and our economy), says Soddy, like a machine. We transform energy into physical work. Like all machines, we’re bound by the laws of thermodynamics, which say that you can’t get something for nothing. Energy output requires energy input. That means humans are forever dependent on natural resources.
Now comes the problem. Our biophysical stock of resources — what Soddy called ‘wealth’ — is bound by the laws of thermodynamics. But money — which Soddy called ‘virtual wealth’ — is bound only by the laws of mathematics. Money can grow forever. Natural resource extraction cannot. This mismatch, Soddy claimed, is the root of most economic problems.
  The Theocratic Mantra Of Our Age Stirling Newberry [Ian Welsh, September 16, 2020]
...When I say the theocratic mantra, I mean that quite literally. We believe in a neoliberal neoconservative economic system which has as its roots a neoclassical vision of a mass of humanity making logical economic decisions. This vision is absurd and the vision must be taken on a force of logic to an unparalleled Truth. This does not mean that all other forms are rational: many of them are equally irrational in different ways. One can look at numerous Marxian ideas. They have a different irrefutable logic which is also wrong but to argue from 1st principles as to why it is wrong would take a dissertation.
What happens then is the realistic numbers of society drop away one after another when some specific rule that they know must be true and yet cannot be admitted has to be broken for the sake of the bedrock rules that govern debate. You must be Civil and reasonable within the context of an uncivil and unreasonable system. The men and women who can do this can write several articles a week or do a paper per semester or some other measure of output per unit input. However, the end comes when the substructure of debate is proven to be false. This has happened with the Great Recession over 10 years ago, but the system which runs debate has continued and only become more ornate and Byzantine as it has done so....
...When you have at least 40% of the population wanting to believe irrational things, and another 40% which wants a logic which is not functional, there is a great deal of logically valid and scientifically correct data which will not be allowed as a given.
In short, we argue over things that have already been proven to be true. I do not need to listen to President Trump to know that he simply lies. However, his overt lies are a result of the fact that there has been for 40 years a gradually building consensus for a covert set of lies.The system which created the confluence of events which led to him taking the oath of office is in no way related to any system of reality worthy of attention.
An example is the data that oil is producing negative value every single day. The reason it does so is also well known: a few benefit tremendously while the vast majority pays a small consequence which when summed is far greater than the benefits to the few. On the scale of a global population, there is no other answer than to wind down most of the fossil fuel. But there is a large population of elites who own their tranche by holding some bottleneck in the fossil fuel economy, even though it may be several steps removed.
Square circles Mandos [Ian Welsh, September 16, 2020]
I just want to draw some attention to this post on Naked Capitalism that I thought was an excellent analysis of the dilemma of left-wing electoral politics....
...There is still a large segment of opinion on the left that wants to engage in electoral politics but without taking into account voter subjectivity.  Well, of the votes meaningfully available to the left (construed as generously as possible) in Western countries, they do not conceive of the universe in the way that many people, particularly on the economic and environmental left, want them to.  If you are interested in exerting power via electoral politics, you must seriously engage with the subjective reality that these voters live in.   In the USA, one large group views Trump and all his supporters to be a critical values threat (what I’ve been calling the “dire aesthetic emergency” — keep in mind that I do not use “aesthetic” in a derogatory and trivializing way), another group (black voters) exist in a state of justified mistrust towards the rest of the electorate, and another group wants economic improvement but only if it is obtained through an aggressive posture towards those they view as an outgroup.  How these groups formed is a matter of a complex social history that is not fully amenable to class politics via “vulgar Marxism”.
We Lost Because We Weren’t Big Enough (the Left in the UK and the US) Jeremy Gilbert [Open Democracy, via Naked Capitalism 9-14-20]
....Firstly, the established professional political class, and the interests that it represents (primarily, finance capital and Big Tech) have successfully defended their institutional privileges against a democratic assault.
They have done so mainly by convincing a layer of affluent, middle-aged professionals that the Left ultimately represents a threat to their most cherished social values: meritocratic, individualistic, cosmopolitan liberalism. In the US, this perceived threat has mainly taken the form of a repeated insistence (against absolutely all psephological evidence) that a Sanders candidacy would inevitably lose to Trump, thereby extending the life of his cartoonishly villainous regime. This same threat was used to convince older Black Democratic voters in the South that the defence of centrist liberalism was the only alternative to a perpetuation of Trumpian white supremacism. In the UK, the same effect was achieved by convincing a small but strategically crucial section of middle-class voters that Jeremy Corbyn was an advocate for Brexit and an antisemite, and that voters should instead lend support to the Liberal Democrats or the Greens (or abstain).
....[Trump's] failure to deliver on any of his promises (either to build a wall on the Mexican border or to bring jobs back to the rust belt) has undermined much of his credibility with that section, which is partly why increasingly deranged conspiracy theories are circulating among his die-hard supporters. There isn’t much reason left to vote for Trump, if you didn’t benefit from his tax cuts, or don’t believe he’s engaged in a secret war with the ‘deep state’.
....The twentieth-century labour movement and the institutions of the welfare state were notoriously racist and misogynistic, at their worst. But they also afforded a degree of basic economic protection for the poorest workers that has been systematically stripped away since the 1970s. For poor white workers, especially straight men, the decline in the value accorded to their cultural status as straight white men has coincided with a decline in their economic and political power. In some, this provokes intense resentment of an increasingly cosmopolitan political elite that drives support for a far-Right agenda.
How NAFTA Lost Democrats the South [Institute for New Economic Thinking, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-20]
[New York Post 9-17-20]
The People, NO—Thomas Frank's new book on anti-Populism Jon Larson [Real Economics September 14, 2020] Thomas Frank is a brave man. He has decided to discover how the political movement of Populism has been degraded into a term of slander. This is a project long overdue because only a tiny fraction of those who use the term populism have any idea that this was once a fiercely debated set of ideas passionately believed by many people struggling to solve extremely difficult problems. In my experience, most people worldwide with a university education believe that a populist is an ignorant hick who is terrified of learning and modernity—a bad person to be shunned. Like Frank, I believe that is a terrible, historically inaccurate, lie. Unfortunately that's the conventional "wisdom". Correcting this terrible ignorance requires far more patience than I have... The People, NO doesn't pull many punches. It is lovingly crafted—a graceful result of thousands of hours of hard work. Whether that is enough to change any minds...we'll see. But we can hope because real Populism is probably the only system of organized thought that has any chance of addressing the serious problems facing humanity these days. We need to reclaim populism from the right. It has a long, proud leftwing history
Thomas Frank [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 9-16-20]
‘Populist’ has become shorthand for racist authoritarianism. But the first populists were progressive labor activists who fought for democracy....
American elites of the day were unanimous in their fear and loathing of populism. They used the movement’s name as a different sort of shorthand, meaning all the pathologies that upper-class people thought characterized the lesser orders.
According to America’s leading editors and men of letters, populism represented the irrational resentments of society’s losers and rural ignoramuses, who brayed for silly things like the income tax, a fiat currency and a crackdown on monopolies. Populism was said to be a kind of collective madness afflicting these lower orders, in which sinister demagogues – often female – beguiled the simple-minded people of the interior. Because populists questioned the gold standard – then the sacred bulwark of academic economics – elites reviled them as ignorant and anti-intellectual. Populism, in their thinking, was the class war come to America....
For a few decades in the first half of the 20th century, American historians thought highly of populism, seeing it as the beginning of the reform tradition that eventually came into its own in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.
Then everything changed. In the 1950s, American intellectuals soured on reform movements made up of working people. Led by the most famous historian of the period, Columbia University’s Richard Hofstadter, the eminent thinkers of that contented era painted populism as the great example of the scary things that could happen when society’s lower orders got organized. Rather than heroes, the pops were now seen as backwoods cranks who had risen up against a sophisticated economic system they simply could not understand.

The Carnage of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

50 years later, Milton Friedman’s shareholder doctrine is dead
[Fortune, via The Big Picture 9-16-20]
Over the last 50 years, Friedman’s views became increasingly influential in the U.S. As a result, the power of the stock market and wealthy elites soared and consideration of the interests of workers, the environment, and consumers declined. Profound economic insecurity and inequality, a slow response to climate change, and undermined public institutions resulted.
The rich and the rest: ‘The dark side of meritocracy’ in America today [The Times Literary Review, via Naked Capitalism 9-19-20] To explore how rich reactionaries have mutilated politics, and the deadly effects that have resulted, Anne Nelson, author of Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (Bloomsbury, 2019) reviews a very interesting juxtaposition of four books: THE TRIUMPH OF DOUBT: Dark money and the science of deception, by David Michaels (Oxford University Press, 2020); KOCHLAND: The secret history of Koch industries and corporate power in America, by Christopher Leonard (Simon and Schuster, 2019); WHAT IT TAKES: Lessons in the pursuit of excellence, by founder and chairman and CEO of the now giant global private equity racket, The Blackstone Group, Stephen A. Schwarzman (Simon and Schuster, 2020); and DEATHS OF DESPAIR AND THE FUTURE OF CAPITALISM, by Anne Case and Angus Deaton (Princeton University Press, 2019). By including Schwarzman's book, Nelson is able address the question of what motivates the rich. How Charles Koch Is Buying Credibility With Academic Investments [via Naked Capitalism 9-13-20]
[Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis, via Naked Capitalism 9-16-20]
As the educational level of residents in poor countries improves, one would think that the income gap between poor and rich countries would narrow. But a Regional Economist article shows that poor countries are not catching up to rich nations in terms of GDP per capita despite the gains in education.
The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure
Nick Hanauer and David M. Rolf  [Time, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-20]
[Counterpunch, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-20]“Democrats back away from quick reversal of Trump tax cuts”
[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-15-20]
[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 9-16-20]
“Canadians who were born in the 70s grew up with MEC; I always had an MEC backpack for school, bought my winter jackets there, and when I spent serious time in the mountains in the 1990s, I couldn’t wait to make trips to the store in Calgary to gear up. There really was a co-op spirit that reflected the organization’s collectivist, hippie west coast / prairie roots. Many meaningful trips in the wilderness happened with MEC gear. Now it’s…in the hands of private equity.”
The Death of Industrial Seattle
[The Stranger, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-20]
....a superb work of historical analysis by Thomas J. Sugrue. It's called The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Its key point is that the deindustrialization of Detroit did not begin in the 1970s, as many believe, but actually at the peak of the city's economic greatness, the second half of the 1940s. At around this time, the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, Chrysler) began to relocate factories from the city to the suburbs and other states with cheaper labor and weaker unions. Sugrue writes:
...Motown lost more than 300,000 auto industry jobs, beginning in the late 1940s. The process of deindustrialization that I describe in The Origins of the Urban Crisis occurred steadily and relentlessly, following a path that led to the suburbs, to the rural Midwest, to the Sunbelt, to Canada and Mexico, and also overseas, as car manufacturers and suppliers searched for cheap labor, low taxes, and lax regulations.
The problem for executives at the Big Three was militant labor unions, one of which, UAW Local 600, had become so radical that it racially integrated its members. That was far enough. There were (and still are) two weapons against union power: capital mobility and automation. The former leads to globalization, the latter to what many mistake as historical progress.
Starbucks, monetary superpower [About 10 percent of gift cards are never used] [Moneyness, via The Big Picture 9-17-20]
Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer's wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company's liabilities....  What you might not realize is that these balances  simultaneously function as a loan to Starbucks. Starbucks doesn't pay any interest on balances held in the Starbucks app or gift cards. You, the loyal customer, are providing the company with free debt.
Starbucks isn't the only firm to get free lending from its customers. So does PayPal. That's right, customers who hold PayPal balances are effectively acting as PayPal's creditors. Customer loans to PayPal currently amount to over $20 billion....
.... many gift cards and balances will go unspent.... But don't forget breakage—balances that will never be redeemed. In 2018 Starbucks recorded breakage of $155 million,~10% of all card balances....  In 2018 the company recognized $155 million in breakage, around 10% of all stored value balances. Wow! Starbucks already pays just 0% on its debts to customers, but add in breakage and that equates to a roughly -10% interest rate!
Ten percent?!?! I's like half of that taken away by tax and returned to the public good. 

Economic Armageddon: The COVID Collapsed Economy

The Fed Is Overpaying Banks and Hedge Funds for Corporate Bonds [David Dayen, September 16, 2020 [American Prospect]
....The Main Street Lending Program for smaller businesses has left 99.8 percent of its funding untapped. There are numerous creative ways for the Fed to prevent state and local austerity through long-dated, rolled-over lending, but they’ve made a grand total of two shorter-term loans. The choice has been not to do so, and yet to buy corporate bonds steadily because the Fed must “keep its promise” to the market. Asset inflation, in other words, was a choice. The K-shaped recovery was a choice.
Part of this, as my colleague Bob Kuttner points out, is that the Treasury Department is a silent partner in the Congressionally approved programs, and Treasury has fashioned onerous terms for smaller businesses and government bonds....
Bob’s right that we need a Reconstruction Finance Corporation-type setup that could inject direct funds into failing companies, as well as grants to the states. But letting the Fed off the hook for its favoritism to financial elites would be a mistake. In fact, the Fed’s own data proves that it does engage in direct cash infusions, by overpaying for corporate bonds.
Americans for Financial Reform ferreted this out in a criminally under-discussed revelation. The Fed reports its corporate bond purchases and loans under the CARES Act to Congress; the most recent one came out September 8. If you go to the trade-level data for bond purchases, you see this very clearly. There’s a par value, a market rate for the bond purchases the Fed is making. It’s paying more than par with virtually every purchase. It bought Altria (the Marlboro and Juul people) bonds at 109.9 percent. It bought Columbia Pipeline group at 116.7 percent. It bought Principal Financial Group at 112 percent. All but a very few of hundreds of purchases totaling tens of billions of dollars are made above par. On average, the price is 107 percent.
“Blackstone to Boost Mobile-Home Bet With $550 Million Deal” 
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-15-20]
“Blackstone Group Inc. is pouring more cash into mobile-home parks, a corner of the commercial real estate market that is holding up in the pandemic. The alternative asset manager is in exclusive talks to acquire roughly 40 parks from Summit Communities for about $550 million, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The majority of the properties are located in Florida, said some of the people, who requested anonymity because the transaction isn’t public.” • Comment:
Almost 60 percent of business closures are now permanent, new Yelp data shows
[NBC, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-20] If your small business died, blame the White House
[USA Today, via The Big Picture 9-15-20]
The continuing refusal to develop a national policy and coordinated response to the pandemic has turned what could have been a limited shutdown into a long, lingering economic disaster.
“Fidelity warns of supply chain risks due to stranded seafarers” 
[Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-14-20]
“Fidelity International, the $566bn asset manager, has called on companies and governments to urgently address an unfolding crisis in global supply chains as hundreds of thousands of ship workers remain stranded at sea because of the pandemic…. Jenn-Hui Tan, global head of stewardship and sustainable investing at Fidelity, said an estimated 90 per cent of world trade relies on shipping, providing a vital service for businesses and consumers. He said seafarers should be classified as essential workers and allowed to disembark…. According to the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), there are about 300,000 seafarers trapped aboard vessels, while a similar number are facing financial ruin as many have not been able to return to work…. [Mr. Tan] said there was a big logistical challenge to repatriate seafarers because of the reduction in international flights in response to the pandemic. There was also an economic cost, as ships altered routes in order to allow workers to leave.”
“Trump’s COVID-19 Culpability”
[Niskanen Center, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-17-20]
“The fact that the United States’ Center for Disease Control has long been the world’s leader in research, knowledge, experience, and capacity for the control of communicable diseases is important. A number of the public health authorities in the countries that succeeded in using TTSI to suppress the virus have mentioned that they have modeled themselves after the CDC. Shouldn’t we consider countries that aspired to become America’s peers in disease control — that owe their success in controlling Covid-19 in part because they modeled themselves after the CDC — as the relevant set of peer-countries? Yes, we should. Not only have most of these countries looked to us for leadership in disease control for decades, none of them are wealthier than the U.S. And none but Germany comes even close to the U.S. in terms of medical research, innovation, drug development and medical manufacturing. You don’t need to believe in American exceptionalism to see that, until Trump came along, America truly was exceptional in terms of its capacity for a huge pandemic control push.”

 Progressive Policies into the Breach

The Economic Case for a People’s Vaccine
[Boston Review, via Naked Capitalism 9-17-20]
Many have called for a people’s vaccine for COVID-19—a vaccine provided universally and accessibly to the entire world population. The moral arguments may be familiar, but economics supports the case, too. Economics also helps to explain what role the public sector should play in developing a people’s vaccine and how such efforts should be coordinated across countries.
 Drawing on economic and moral arguments, we make the case in two steps. First we consider how a vaccine should optimally be distributed, once it has been developed. We argue that even if a vaccine were like any other consumer good—generating purely private benefits—the economic case for a people’s vaccine would be strong. But a vaccine differs from other consumer goods because of the special nature of health, which gives reason for us to value other people having it, even if there are no other spillovers involved. Moreover, a vaccine is not like just any other consumer good: its benefits extend far beyond the individual vaccinated. This externality strengthens the case for a people’s vaccine. Together, these considerations justify pricing a vaccine at an accessible cost.

Restoring balance to the economy

NORTH CAROLINA NURSES WIN UNION IN LANDSLIDE AFTER BITTER OPPOSITION [The Intercept 9-17-2020, via Payday Report, via Naked Capitalism 9-19-20]
IN A DRAMATIC VICTORY for the beleaguered American labor movement, 1,800 nurses at Asheville, North Carolina-based Mission Hospital will now be represented by a union, National Nurses United, as officials finished counting votes early Thursday morning. The victory is the largest at a nonunion hospital in the South since 1975, and is the first private sector hospital union win ever in North Carolina.
The hospital is owned by the largest hospital corporation in the country, Tennessee-based HCA Healthcare. The company was previously run by Republican Rick Scott, whose ill-gotten gains from Medicare fraud helped fund his successful run in Florida for Senate.

Climate and environmental crises

Ending The War Against The Climate Movement David Sirota, September 14, 2020
Trump hasn’t just made it easier for fossil fuel companies to increase emissions — he has also changed rules to make it harder for climate activists to fight back....
now-forgotten 2018 Washington Post story momentarily spotlighted the tectonic change of attitude.... “The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” one scientist told the Post.
That’s an understatement — in truth, Trump and his party have taken proactive steps to prevent anyone else from doing anything about it either. For example: last year, the White House moved to prevent states like California from strengthening emissions standards. Regulators at the Trump-led Securities and Exchange Commission have been helping corporations block shareholders from even voting on climate-related corporate resolutions. Rather than cracking down on industry officials who have been caught lying to the public, those same SEC regulators are refusing to use their power to require companies to disclose climate risks to those same shareholders. Amid the summer fire season, Trump’s Labor Department is helping oil and gas companies make it harder for pension managers, workers and retirees to move their savings out of fossil fuel investments. In the courts, judges are helping the Trump administration block climate cases before they are even fully litigated, they are helping the fossil fuel industry steamroll pipeline opponents, and they have shut down the case aiming to hold oil companies responsible for misleading the public about the dangers of carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, Republicans in state legislatures have been passing laws criminalizing climate protests. Though Trump promised to let local communities regulate fossil fuel development, his party has been doing the opposite -- GOP lawmakers have pushed preemption laws to try to block cities and towns from restricting that development.
Steve Keen [Globalization, via Naked Capitalism 9-14-20]
[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 9-14-20]How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 9-16-20]
Why? Why does the policy have to be market-based? Because ever possibly admitting or even indicating that the role of government might be superior to the role of markets can never be allowed.
I’m not sure this can be understood unless you are familiar with the history of neoliberalism, from the work of Philip Mirowski, Corey Robin, and others.
And I think that an understanding of republicanism — and how some of the founders, such as Hamilton and Adams, thought of a republic, and what it should be — makes the point even more profound. Because in a republic, the General Welfare, the public interest, ALWAYS must have precedence over self interests. And, thus, the markets can NEVER be allowed to predominate. But we have allowed exactly that -- and that's why we're in the messes we're in. 
In fact, in the founding era, certain characteristics and behaviors of markets, such as engrossing, speculating, and price gouging, were highly disreputable, if not outright banned: 
“The questions of the introduction of domestic manufactures and the role that labor-saving machines might play in American life were considered not as isolated economic issues but as matters affecting the entire character of society. No doubt profit motives existed, but would-be manufacturers had to make cogent arguments which addressed broader ideological concerns. “In addition to asking “How much will it pay?” they had to consider as well, ”How will it advance the cause of republicanism?” The question was not rhetorical – not at this time at least.” (Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900, by John F. Kasson, Grossman Publishers, 1976, p 6).
There are still reverberations of this republican consciousness in the body politic, but the entire effort of movement conservatism, libertarianism, and neoliberalism, is bent toward eradicating them. 
The Italian Fishermen Who Brought the Sea Back to Life
[Reasons To Be Cheerful, via The Big Picture 9-17-20]
When overfishing decimated Puglia’s biodiversity, conservationists and fishermen created a marine reserve that turned their catches around.
[Science, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-18-20]
“As planned potable water reuse systems [i.e., purified sewage] become more common, water management must undergo a paradigm shift. This is not the first time the water industry has faced this type of challenge. In the late 20th century, water managers and regulators in the United States recognized that preventing pollution of water supplies from diffuse sources, such as farm runoff and pastures, was often more effective and cheaper than finding ways to purify contaminated drinking water. The push for watershed protection in the 1990s changed the way that water utilities managed drinking water and provides lessons for protecting drinking water in the era of potable water reuse. Watershed protection regulations such as the 1996 amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act prevented pollution throughout the hydrologic basin from which cities obtained drinking water (6). In the United States, federal funds were allocated to help water managers meet new watershed protection requirements (6). These policies changed the status quo: Many water utilities restructured their organizations to acquire and manage land, to develop expertise in rangeland conservation and forestry, and to work closely with stakeholders throughout the watershed.”

Information Age Dystopia

How tech billionaires’ visions of human nature shape our world
[The Conversation, via Naked Capitalism 9-14-20]
“The ancient Greeks had a name for someone with the courage to tell truths that could put them in danger – the parrhesiast. But the parrhesiast needed a listener who promised to not to react with anger. This parrhesiastic contract allowed dangerous truth-telling. We have shredded this contract.”
“How Netflix film The Social Dilemma probes the dark side of tech” [Financial Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-15-20]
“Making [The Social Dilemma] was a steep learning curve for [director Jeff] Orlowski, who says the biggest revelation was how these platforms make money. ‘I spend thousands of dollars on Apple products so I understand why Apple is worth a lot of money, because I’m giving them a lot of money, right?’ he says. ‘But how are Facebook and Google worth so much? There’s this saying, ‘If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.’ They’re making their money off this manipulative advertising model that nobody understands. That’s why we did the narrative portion of the film to anthropomorphise the algorithms and to see the machine behind. Literally, there’s a model of every single one of us that’s being tested on all the time . . . to figure out what makes them more money and who they can sell us to. That was a real slap in the face for me
Naomi Klein [The New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-15-20]
“To access the Trump app, users must share their cell-phone numbers with the campaign. “The most important, golden thing in politics is a cellphone number,” [former campaign manager Brad] Parscale told Reuters. ‘When we receive cellphone numbers, it really allows us to identify them across the databases. Who are they, voting history, everything.’ Michael Marinaccio, the chief operating officer of Data Trust, a private Republican data company, said recently that ‘what’s new this year, or at least a sense of urgency, is getting as many cell-phone numbers as we can in the voter file data.’ An effective way to do that is to entice supporters to share not only their own cell-phone numbers with the campaign but those of their contacts as well….. As [Samuel] Woolley and his colleague Jacob Gursky wrote in MIT Technology Review, the Trump 2020 app is ‘a voter surveillance tool of extraordinary power.’ I learned this firsthand after downloading the Trump 2020 app on a burner phone I bought in order to examine it, using an alias and a new e-mail address. Two days later, the President sent me a note, thanking me for joining his team. Lara Trump invited me (for a small donation) to become a Presidential adviser. Eric Trump called me one of his father’s ‘FIERCEST supporters from the beginning.’ But the messages I began getting from the Trump campaign every couple of hours were sent not only to the name and address I’d used to access the app. They were also sent to the e-mail address and name associated with the credit card I’d used to buy the phone and its sim card, neither of which I had shared with the campaign. Despite my best efforts, they knew who I was and where to reach me.”
[OneZero, via Naked Capitalism 9-18-20] “Why this author is taking a stand against Amazon’s audiobook dominance” 
[Fast Company, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-17-20]
“When science fiction writer and activist Cory Doctorow releases his new novel, Attack Surface, next month, you’ll be able to pick up a physical copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookstore. If you’d prefer an e-book, you’ll be able to download it on Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and other mainstream digital book platforms. But if you’re someone who prefers an audiobook, you’ll find the novel, which deals with a corporate cybersecurity expert struggling with the morality of her work, absent from one of the biggest audiobook stores on the internet: Amazon’s Audible. Instead, Doctorow is selling the recorded version of the book through a Kickstarter campaign, and it will also be available through non-Amazon vendors like Google’s Play store and That, Doctorow explains, is because audiobooks sold through Audible must be bundled with copyright protection, or digital rights management (DRM) controls, whether authors or publishers want to include such restrictions or not. The DRM technology not only makes it harder to pirate audiobooks, but also restricts playback to devices and software authorized by Audible, which Amazon bought in 2008. For traditional e-books, Amazon lets publishers offering titles on Kindle decide whether or not to include DRM. ‘We should not live in a world where manufacturers get to decide how you use their products once you buy them,’ Doctorow says.”

Disrupting mainstream politics

“Noam Chomsky: There’s Reason for Hope” (interview)  Noam Chomsky [JSTOR Daily via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-18-20]
[CHOMSKY:] There’s many reasons to hope. Take a look at the streets of the country, the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement is the biggest social movement in American history with support beyond anything that’s ever been registered in the past. It’s not alone. It’s a sign of substantial changes in popular consciousness, popular understanding.
In September, there’ll be the first international meeting of the Progressive International Organization, founded by the Bernie Sanders movement in the United States. Yanis Varoufakis is bringing in participants from the Global South. It’s meeting in Iceland, where the prime minister is a member. These are forces, many more can be mentioned, that are countering the drive towards destruction. And it’s a major class war, you could say, on an enormous scale, and it will be played out in the next decade or two. And that’ll determine the fate of the world. So yes, there’s hope—but not if people give up.
Apparently Biden WANTS To Lose The Election Ian Welsh, September 18, 2020
Democrats are completely vicious when taking down someone like Sanders, but they don’t even bother to try when it comes to winning national elections against Republicans. To all appearances they actually don’t care if Biden wins, or Trump loses.
Or they are completely incompetent.
Why not both?
If Biden wins it will be despite his incompetence at organizing a campaign. But if he loses, we will be treated to 4 more years of liberals saying “it wasn’t anything WE did, it was all Russia and racism and sexism.”
.... I suspect Democrats lose because not just because they are incompetent but because they don’t actually care. Losing is fine, they’ll still be OK. Pelosi will still be rich as Croesus, Biden will be fine, Harris will fine. Winning is nice enough, but they don’t need to win. They don’t even have a power drive, they’re people with sinecures protecting them savagely, but since they don’t need to win to keep their comfortable lives, only keep control of the party, they are only savage to those who threaten their control of the party (the left), not to the right.

The Dark Side

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-14-20]
JJ MacNab @jjmacnab While there's been a lot of chatter this year about civil war, I don't really see that in the foreseeable future. I think that vigilantism and small cell terrorism are going to pose a bigger problem. Multnomah Co Sheriff @MultCoSO Deputies have contacted several groups of residents in Corbett who have set up checkpoints and are stopping cars. While we understand their intent is to keep the community safe, it is never legal to block a public roadway or force other citizens to stop. 9:02 AM · Sep 12, 2020 JJ MacNab @jjmacnab · Sep 12 I think what we're seeing is Louis Beam's "leaderless resistance" in practice. Instead of a central leadership structure coordinating idealistic individuals and cells, there are "organs of information distribution" that inform idealists when, where, and how to act out.
Here’s who might succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court
[New York Post, via Naked Capitalism 9-19-20]
Republican wish-list, assuming that Trump successfully makes the appointment.
“How Conspiracy Theories Are Shaping the 2020 Election—and Shaking the Foundation of American Democracy”  [Time, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-16-20]
 “In more than seven dozen interviews conducted in Wisconsin in early September, from the suburbs around Milwaukee to the scarred streets of Kenosha in the aftermath of the Jacob Blake shooting, about 1 in 5 voters volunteered ideas that veered into the realm of conspiracy theory, ranging from QAnon to the notion that COVID-19 is a hoax. Two women in Ozaukee County calmly informed me that an evil cabal operates tunnels under the U.S. in order to rape and torture children and drink their blood.”
Lambert Strether comments: "Yes, that’s called capitalism. Metaphorically. More or less. No, seriously folks. I don’t love QAnon. But should we be more concerned with lunatic theories held by persons with actual power, like — hear me out — mainstream economics? Which killed more people? QAnon, or austerity?" “I never considered voting for Trump in 2016. I may be forced to vote for him this year.” 
Danielle Pletka [Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 9-15-20]
“I fear the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party even more. What is there to be afraid of? I fear that former vice president Joe Biden would be a figurehead president, incapable of focus or leadership, who would run a teleprompter presidency with the words drafted by his party’s hard-left ideologues. I fear that a Congress with Democrats controlling both houses — almost certainly ensured by a Biden victory in November — would begin an assault on the institutions of government that preserve the nation’s small ‘d’ democracy. That could include the abolition of the filibuster, creating an executive-legislative monolith of unlimited political power; an increase in the number of Supreme Court seats to ensure a liberal supermajority; passage of devastating economic measures such as the Green New Deal; nationalized health care; the dismantling of U.S. borders and the introduction of socialist-inspired measures that will wreck an economy still recovering from the pandemic shutdown.” • I wish!
Lambert Strether comments: "Pletka is from AEI, supposed to be the saner sort of conservative institution — and the sort of Republican who ought to be slithering onto Biden’s bandwagon along with all the other war criminals from the Bush administration." Twitter
Benjamin Passikoff @benpassikoff The American Enterprise Institute? Daniel A. D'Aniello still chair of the board? He chairs the Carlyle Group too, no? Funny how it all comes together like that.
We're running out of time for conservatives and libertarians to be cured of their dread of social collective action and "socialism." Obviously, solving climate change cannot be done without some large amount of "central planning" / social collective action. And as for "socialism"? What do conservatives and libertarians propose to do when automation and robotics displace tens of millions of jobs over the coming 10-20 years? They've had 12 years to come up with an alternative to the Obamacare they hate so much (even though it was originally their idea) -- and have put NOTHING on the table. So what are they going to do about 20 to 40 million people whose jobs will be replaced with advanced technologies?   


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