Sunday, March 14, 2021

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

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

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Russia turns away from NASA, says it will work with China on a Moon base 

[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 3-10-21]

Brazil's High Court Invalidates Lula's Convictions, Leaving Him Eligible to Run Against Bolsonaro

[, via Naked Capitalism 3-10-21]

….this is increasingly becoming the playbook for neoliberal elites who are angry that the population has defied them by voting for those they oppose. Thwarted by the democratic process, elites now resort instead to subversions of democracy in the name of upholding it. The employ frivolous impeachments to remove the leader whose legitimacy they never accepted, lawfare designed to make governance impossible through endless investigations or even the unjust imprisonment of their political opponents, and a full-scale union with the corporate media which openly and shamelessly ceases to report and instead engages in tawdry political activism to destroy the leaders chosen by the disobedient population. Indeed, the oligarchical Brazilian media so openly and overwhelmingly favored Dilma’s impeachment that the steadfastly apolitical press freedom group Reporters Without Borders dropped Brazil to 104th in its annual press freedom rankings and warned that the Brazilian press’ abandonment of the journalistic function while agitating for Dilma’s removal was so severe that the Brazilian press itself endangered press freedom.

As neoliberalism destroys more and more lives around the world, leaving an endless array of social pathologies in its wake, power centers will seek out tactics to subvert the democratic will. The increasing insistence on censoring the internet and controlling the flow of information is one symptom of elite fear of popular rage and desperation. So, too, is the related attempt by corporate media outlets to regain their monopoly over news and discourse by discrediting anyone or anything which sits in opposition to them. And the playbook that resulted in Dilma’s removal from office less than eighteen months after Brazil elected her, followed by the unjust imprisonment of Lula to ensure he could not run and win again, is reflective of a pattern already emerging in the west: abusing the force of law, propaganda and state processes to destroy those whom the population was not supposed to elect.

The same ruling class fears motivate increasing attacks on anyone who effectively exposes the rot and deceit of their conduct. Just as the U.S. Government has imprisoned Julian Assange and exiled Edward Snowden, the Brazilian government is intent on imprisoning my source, Walter Delgatti, for the crime of exposing the truth (they also tried, unsuccessfully, to criminally prosecute me for the crime of doing the reporting that exposed the fraud of Lula’s prosecution).

The guardians of the ruling neoliberal order know their days are numbered and will become increasingly desperate to cling to power for as long as it can. The playbook used and just exposed in Brazil will be seen with greater frequency as a hated elite seek to weaken that which most threatens their interests: a discourse and a democracy they can no longer manipulate and control.

NYT Fails to Examine Its Participation in Brazil’s ‘Biggest Judicial Scandal’ 

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 3-10-21]

The Lockean Roots of White Supremacy in the U.S.

[Foreign Policy In Focus, via Mike Norman Economics 3-10-21]

The Lockean notion of labor creating private property rights is intertwined with another equally deeply embedded Lockean legacy: the unequal racial access to property and liberty…. 

“In the beginning, all the world was America,” Locke famously wrote, imagining what he called the “state of nature” before the creation of political society. In advancing his theory that it was the mixing of one’s labor with land that created private property, Locke saw the Native Americans as creatures who could not be considered property owners since they merely inhabited the land and forests but did not cultivate the soil.

To Locke, in fact, the Native American could be equated with “one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security” and who “therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tiger.” Locke thus provided a most potent ethical justification for racial genocide.

Likewise, slavery had Lockean moorings, in the English philosopher’s theologically reasoned distinction between the relationship that a master had with a servant and that with a slave: he saw the first as a contract between between the master and the indentured servant from Europe while the relationship of the slave from Africa and the master was one of the former being subject to the “absolute dominion” of the latter….

As an eminent contemporary philosopher of intersectionality, Charles Mills, writes, “[I]nsofar as the modern world is shaped by European expansionism (colonialism, imperialism, white-settler states, racial slavery),” Locke’s social contract “could…be regarded as founded on an exclusionary intrawhite ‘racial contract’ that denies equal moral, legal, and political standing to people of color.”

Move Over, Nerds. It’s the Politicians’ Economy Now.

[New York Times, March 9, 2021]

“This is an enduring regime shift,” said Paul McCulley, who teaches at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. “Having the tools of economic stabilization work a whole lot more through the fiscal channel and a whole lot less through the monetary channel is a profound, pro-democracy policy mix.” ….

“This legislation has everything to do with restoring the confidence of the American people in democracy and in their government, and if we can’t respond to the pain of working families today, we don’t deserve to be here,” said Senator Bernie Sanders of the Biden bill, known as the American Rescue Plan Act.

A Watershed Moment

Robert Kuttner, March 12, 2021 [The American Prospect]

…. But what a wasted half-century.

The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

First 100: The American Rescue Plan’s Significant Public Investments

David Dayen, March 11, 2021 [The American Prospect]

The section-by-section summary of the bill has already yielded a number of surprises popping up in political media. But these haven’t gone far enough. Let’s start with the health infrastructure investments. There’s a section on providing medical supplies and personnel for rural healthcare providers, something that will be difficult to dislodge post-pandemic. There’s $7.6 billion for state and local health department workers and another $7.6 billion for community health centers, which provide basic care to poor communities. For context, Bernie Sanders got $11 billion for community health centers in the Affordable Care Act over five years, and it made a significant difference.

Then there’s the school funding, $128 billion dedicated to K-12…. This is all on top of the $350 billion investment in state and local governments, which thanks to a last-minute change, can go toward service improvement in things like water, sewage, and broadband. While being from Los Angeles and seeing up-close our pandemic-driven crisis in public budgeting makes me happiest that this money will avert those tough choices (see Janet Yellen on how we learned from the financial crisis not to offset federal stimulus with state and local austerity), there’s no doubt some of this money will pour into lasting investments and upgrades in key systems. Similarly, the $31 billion for tribal governments, the largest investment in those communities in some time, will likely include lasting infrastructure; some of it is earmarked for housing. 

“Biden’s Stimulus Is the Dawn of a New Economic Era”

[Adam Tooze, Foreign Policy].

Tooze is one of the few pundits who understands neoliberalism and why it’s bad. But I am not as optimistic — we just saw the forces of violent insurrection that have been grown and nurtured by the reactionary rich, and there is not yet any sign of holding them to account. 

“[D]emocratic leadership requires not just the rule of law and the observance of constitutional propriety. It requires more than just reasonable behavior on the part of all the major parties. It also needs to be demonstrated, simply put, by enacting popular policies when they are needed. Democracy is measured by how rapidly and forcefully it responds to crisis, particularly when that crisis hits those with the least security and the least influence. The urgency of those who are most hard up must be visibly felt within the political system. There are moments when democracy consists precisely in ensuring that obfuscation and procedure do not stand in the way.” • Looking at you, Obama! More: “On this all-important metric, the Biden administration is delivering. The $1.9 trillion stimulus package to address the United States’ ongoing social crisis, forced through by means of reconciliation in the teeth of Republican opposition, is a true example of democratic leadership in action, one that Europe would be well advised to follow. Furthermore, in the economic realm, national policies spill over. Far more than in the 2009 recession, the U.S. economy’s rapid recovery that the Biden administration seems determined to unleash will boost global demand. Therefore, it will not just set an example. It will materially assist the recovery of the rest of the world in 2021.”

Federalize It, Joe Biden: The American Rescue Plan isn’t complete until welfare program administration is taken back from the states.

Alexander Sammon, March 12, 2021 [The American Prospect]

….we’ve arrived at a point where the federalist approach to health care just no longer holds up….

If the pandemic year has shown us anything, it’s that states are not up to the task of administering these benefits as quickly and efficiently as the federal government. Reassigning crucial social welfare programs like unemployment and health insurance and education to the federal government would not only improve outcomes and efficiency, it would also save a ton of money in administrative costs. Given that many of these states, especially Republican-led ones that have refused Medicaid expansion, are facing revenue and budgetary shortfalls and unforeseen costs associated with dealing with the pandemic, it would present considerable financial relief for them as well.

The proponents of the republican revival in Constitutional law argued in the 1980s that civic republicanism (to which the Yale Law Journal devoted an entire issue) requires economic equality and therefore a government role of provisioning people with what they require economically. Though the promise of the republican revival has been stymied by the success of the Law and Economy doctrine pushed by The Federalist Society, the ideas continue to be developed and promoted. See, for example, “Materializing Citizenship: Finance in a Producers' Republic”, by Cornell Law professor Robert Hockett, who has served as an adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren. 


Inside ‘The Firm’: How The Royal Family’s $28 Billion Money Machine Really Works

[Forbes, via The Big Picture 3-12-21]

Being a member of The Firm also comes with high expectations for keeping the moneymaking machine running for generations to come. The crown holds, but cannot sell, nearly $28 billion in assets through the Crown Estate ($19.5 billion), Buckingham Palace (est. $4.9 billion), the Duchy of Cornwall ($1.3 billion), the Duchy of Lancaster ($748 million), Kensington Palace (est. $630 million) and the Crown Estate Scotland ($592 million). Forbes also estimates that Queen Elizabeth has another $500 million in personal assets.

The Heiress, the Queen, and the Trillion-Dollar Tax Shelter 

[Institutional Investor, via The Big Picture 3-13-21]

Frustrated, the couple began sharing their cache of unearthed documents, which they’d scanned before turning over to police, with select members of the international press, including the German-based European Investigative Collaborations network and roughly a dozen other media outlets, including Institutional Investor. Stretching from the 1980s to around 2010, La Hougue’s files reveal the deep inner workings of the rarely glimpsed shadowland of offshore finance, where wealthy clients in the U.S., U.K., and Europe engaged in elaborate schemes to minimize their taxes through legal loopholes, avoidance measures, dummy accounts, ginned-up debt, bogus client names, and painstakingly crafted document forgeries — an apparent specialty of La Hougue’s.

The La Hougue documents expose an intricate network of dubious characters, many of them associates of Dick, including American porn king Eddie Wedelstedt, convicted of tax fraud and obscenity charges in 2006; Israeli art dealer Ronald Fuhrer, who is linked to a Sandro Botticelli masterpiece thought to be the missing 1485 Madonna and Child painting, which hasn’t been seen for the past six years; and, notably, individuals thought to be behind the offshore smuggling of more than $100 million during the U.S. savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s… Other big names appearing on La Hougue’s client list include the former head of Glencore in Russia, Igor Vishnevskiy; British millionaire property tycoon Elliott Bernerd; and Alexander Zhukov, former father-in-law of Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich. “Names on the client lists are coded,” says Dick-Stock, “and we are still learning who’s on them as we go through the process of decoding them.” ….

The five-by-nine-mile island where the documents were found is a pivotal part of the story. A fiercely private tax shelter with a population of around 100,000, Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands and, in many respects, a world unto itself. The island’s roots go back to Neolithic times, with some of its families tracing their lineage for thousands of years. A so-called “peculiar possession” of the British Crown, Jersey in many ways acts like an autonomous country, with its own parliament, judiciary, and treasury that prints Jersey money bearing the visage of the queen, pegged to the British pound. Jersey has constitutional rights separate from the U.K. dating back to the year 1204, but does not answer to the U.K. It responds solely to the authority of the queen….  the island has, over the last half century, become the stomping grounds for a staggering A-to-Z list of top banks, financial institutions, and hedge funds amassing an estimated $2 trillion of the world’s wealth….

In addition, Jersey hosts a branch of Coutts Crown Dependencies, the global offshore wealth manager that is private banker to the queen. Prominently, the queen herself was exposed by the Paradise Papers, as the leaked records showed her partaking of her far-flung offshore empire as Duchy of Lancaster. The monarch’s representatives were forced to admit for the first time in 2017 that she not only was investing in offshore financial vehicles but was well aware of it.  

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

DSGE, the Standard Economic Paradigm, is Based on Bad Modeling

Servaas Storm [Institute for New Economic Thinking, via Naked Capitalism March 9, 2021]

Mainstream macroeconomics finds itself in a deeply unsatisfactory state, unable to make correct predictions and incapable of providing meaningful longer-term analyses and advice. It clearly needs a major rethink. Regrettably, the dominant response of mainstream macroeconomists so far has been to defend the accepted paradigm: some version of the New Keynesian Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) model….

Why Cornel West’s Tenure Fight Matters

[BostonReview, 3-3-2021]

These patterns matter. So when Harvard’s administrators tell Professor West that they cannot bring him up for tenure because it’s “too risky” and he’s “too controversial,” they completely undermine the point of tenure: to preserve and protect his freedom to speak truth to power, to expose injustice anywhere, to bring to bear his enormous critical faculties and prophetic voice to say those things we need to hear in order to advance knowledge and create a more just world. 

Farmers’ Protest Once Again Brought to Fore the Power of Women in Mass Mobilisations 

[The Wire, via Naked Capitalism 3-9-21]

Information Age Dystopia

“How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation”

[MIT Technology Review, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-11-21]

“Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. [Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, a director of AI at Facebook] AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth. In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.” 

“Mark Changed The Rules”: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures

[Buzzfeed, via The Big Picture 3-7-21]

Facebook’s rules to combat misinformation and hate speech are subject to the whims and political considerations of its CEO and his policy team leader.

Creating new economic potential - science and technology

“BOEM Completes Review for First Offshore Wind Farm in Federal Waters” [Maritime Executive, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-11-21] 

“The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has issued its long-awaited final environmental impact study (FEIS) for the Vineyard Wind project off Massachusetts, which will be the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in federal waters…. The study paves the way for a formal record of decision on Vineyard Wind’s EIS review, and it will almost certainly result in a permit approval matching BOEM’s preferred alternative option. As such, it represents a landmark victory for the developer and for the U.S. offshore wind industry, which has been closely watching the permitting process for this pace-setting development. ‘By any measure, this is a breakthrough for offshore wind energy in the United States. Not even two months into a new administration, years of delay have finally culminated in a thorough analysis that should soon put this infrastructure investment on its way,’ said Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association (ACP). ‘We enthusiastically applaud the Biden Administration for completing a thorough analysis and moving ahead rapidly with the final steps to approve the Vineyard Wind project.'”

Disrupting mainstream politics

Entire Staff of Nevada Democratic Party Quits After Democratic Socialist Slate Won Every Seat

Akela Lacy and Ryan Grim, March 8 2021 [Intercept, via Common Dreams]

The establishment Democrats called their slate The Progressive Unity Slate”…. And of course they emptied the Party’s treasury before departing…. and the DNC hired the outgoing executive director…. FEEL THE UNITY!  Good bye and good riddance! Reminds me of one of Satan's lines in Milton's Paradise Lost: Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

On March 6, a coalition of progressive candidates backed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America took over the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party, sweeping all five party leadership positions in a contested election that evening. Whitmer, who had been chair of the Clark County Democratic Party, was elected chair. The establishment had prepared for the loss, having recently moved $450,000 out of the party’s coffers and into the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s account. The DSCC will put the money toward the 2022 reelection bid of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a vulnerable first-term Democrat.

While Whitmer’s opponents say she was planning to fire them anyway, Whitmer denies that claim. “I’ve been putting in the work,” Whitmer told The Intercept for the latest episode of Deconstructed. “What they just didn’t expect is that we got better and better at organizing and out-organizing them at every turn.”

…..The mass exodus of party staff, despite the rhetoric around unity, wasn’t a shock, Whitmer told The Intercept. “We weren’t really surprised, in that we were prepared for it,” she said. “But what hit us by surprise and was sort of shocking is that for a slate that claimed that they were all about unity, and kept this false narrative of division going on throughout the entire campaign — in fact they kept intensifying that — that’s what was surprising about it, was the willingness to just walk away, instead of working with us.”

Whitmer picked to lead Nevada Democrats in major power shift

[Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 6, 2021]

“There was a desire among leadership to encourage Tick [Whitmer’s opponent] to try to unify progressives and the rest of the party, but the state central committee is an unpredictable group,” one operative with close ties to the party told the Review-Journal Saturday. “But keep in mind, the (former Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid machine is not the central committee. It’s the operatives, volunteers, fundraising and organizing capacity, all of which can be accomplished outside of the state party organization.”


Another local Democratic operative questioned the wisdom of the entrenched establishment, given Whitmer’s clear victory. “I don’t know what’s more surprising: The winners of the vote or that the establishment was so out of touch with how things would go,” the operative said.

Norm Ornstein Offers Master Class In How Dems Can Gut Filibusters

[Crooks and Liars 3-6-2021

[Twitter, , via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-8-21]


Democrats Are Split Over How Much The Party And American Democracy Itself Are In Danger 

[FiveThirtyEight, via The Big Picture 3-7-21]

Facing a Republican Party with a growing anti-democratic contingent, Democrats are debating what to do — to bolster their party and, in the view of some in the party, American democracy itself. At the heart of the discussion is how much structural reform do the nation’s governmental and electoral systems need. 

H.R. 1 for Dummies: A layman’s guide to understanding what the For the People Act is and why America needs it.

[TheBulwark, via The Big Picture 3-11-2021]

North Carolina Representative Butterfield Clings to Bipartisanship Fantasy

[Washington Post, via TheWeek 3-12-2021]

“We have to have bipartisan cooperation if we’re going to tackle these items,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.). “Immigration has been lingering since I first came to Congress, and that was 16 years ago. . . . We don’t want to pass these with Democratic votes alone. And I’m not talking about one or two Republicans; I’m talking about a significant number of votes from the opposing party.”

The Dark Side

The GOP scam is getting worse — for Republican voters. A new study shows how.

[Washington Post 3-8-2021]

 Even as areas that vote Republican continue falling behind blue America economically — helping widen those oft-discussed regional inequalities between cosmopolitan and outlying areas — GOP elites everywhere are growing more committed to an increasingly uniform and regressive agenda that does little to address the problem…. The new analysis — which was shared with this blog and is also co-authored by political scientists Jacob Grumbach and Paul Pierson for a forthcoming book on American political economy — brings deep historical context to this problem.

For decades throughout the 20th century, it notes, the industrial economy — combined with large federal expenditures, particularly in the South — drove a “great economic convergence,” in which poorer states steadily caught up with better-off ones.

But more recently, the development of the knowledge economy, whose benefits are largely concentrated in cosmopolitan hubs, has reversed this trend.

Meanwhile, in many red states — mostly in the South — the model of weak unions and low wages, which made them competitive for business inside the national market, is faltering in the face of globalized production….

Instead, red state politicians have increasingly embraced a national agenda that is focused on tax cuts and aggressive deregulation and hostile to federal transfers.
Why? Because GOP policy at the federal and state levels is largely set by “national business groups and organized wealthy backers.” This undercuts “the prospects for robust intergovernmental transfers, both to spur local economic development and to finance the social programs” on which poorer, nonurban voters “increasingly rely.”

Conservative Group Promises Billionaire Bucks To Suppress Vote
Crooks and Liars 3-9-2021

Heritage Action plans a multi-million dollar investment in digital and broadcast ads and activism to suppress votes in key states.

The Republican revolt against democracy, explained in 13 charts

[Vox, via The Big Picture 3-7-21]

The Trump years revealed a dark truth: The Republican Party is no longer committed to democracy. These charts tell the story. (Vox)


The Global Party Survey is a 2019 poll of nearly 2,000 experts on political parties from around the world. The survey asked respondents to rate political parties on two axes: the extent to which they are committed to basic democratic principles and their commitment to protecting rights for ethnic minorities.

This chart shows the results of the survey for all political parties in the OECD, a group of wealthy democratic states, with the two major American parties highlighted in red. The GOP is an extreme outlier compared to mainstream conservative parties in other wealthy democracies, like Canada’s CPC or Germany’s CDU. Its closest peers are almost uniformly radical right and anti-democratic parties. This includes Turkey’s AKP (a regime that is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists), and Poland’s PiS (which has threatened dissenting judges with criminal punishment). The verdict of these experts is clear: The Republican Party is one of the most anti-democratic political parties in the developed world.


The chart here is from a study covering 1997 to 2002, when Fox News was still being rolled out across the country. The study compared members of Congress in districts where Fox News was available to members in districts where it wasn’t, specifically examining how frequently they voted along party lines.

They found that Republicans in districts with Fox grew considerably more likely to vote with the party as it got closer to election time, whereas Republicans without Fox actually grew less likely to do so. The expansion of Fox News, in short, seemingly served a disciplining function: making Republican members of Congress more afraid of the consequences of breaking with the party come election time and thus less inclined to engage in bipartisan legislative efforts.


In Statehouses, Stolen-Election Myth Fuels a G.O.P. Drive to Rewrite Rules Republican legislators want big changes to the laws for elections and other aspects of governance. A fight over the ground rules for voting may follow. (New York Times, via The Big Picture 3-7-21]

 Rewriting January 6th: Republicans push false and misleading accounts of Capitol riot Instead of an attempt to overturn the election by radicalized Donald Trump supporters, it was a choreographed attack staged by antifa provocateurs. Rather than an armed insurrection, it was a good-natured protest spoiled by a few troublemakers. And instead of a deadly event that put the lives of hundreds of lawmakers, police officers and others at risk, the riot was no big deal at all.  (Washington Post, via The Big Picture 3-7-21]

[Twitter,via Naked Capitalism 3-9-21]


[Twitter, via TheWeek 3-12-2021


No comments:

Post a Comment