Sunday, June 6, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 6, 2021

 Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 6, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

The Particular Psychology of Destroying a Planet” What kind of thinking goes into engaging in planetary sabotage?

Bill McKibben [The New Yorker]

….in a new book from the British psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe. “Psychological Roots of the Climate Crisis” states its argument in its subtitle: “Neoliberal Exceptionalism and the Culture of Uncare.” Weintrobe writes that people’s psyches are divided into caring and uncaring parts, and the conflict between them “is at the heart of great literature down the ages, and all major religions.” The uncaring part wants to put ourselves first; it’s the narcissistic corners of the brain that persuade each of us that we are uniquely important and deserving, and make us want to except ourselves from the rules that society or morality set so that we can have what we want. “Most people’s caring self is strong enough to hold their inner exception in check,” she notes, but, troublingly, “ours is the Golden Age of Exceptionalism.” Neoliberalism—especially the ideas of people such as Ayn Rand, enshrined in public policy by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—“crossed a Rubicon in the 1980s” and neoliberals “have been steadily consolidating their power ever since.” Weintrobe calls leaders who exempt themselves in these ways “exceptions” and says that, as they “drove globalization forwards in the 1980s,” they were captivated by an ideology that whispered, “Cut regulation, cut ties to reality and cut concern.” Donald Trump was the logical end of this way of thinking, a man so self-centered that he interpreted all problems, even a global pandemic, as attempts to undo him. “The self-assured neoliberal imagination has increasingly revealed itself to be not equipped to deal with problems it causes,” she writes.

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 6-3-2021]

When a group of schoolboys were marooned on an island in 1965, it turned out very differently from William Golding’s bestseller, writes Rutger Bregman….

For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. This development is still so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Chris Hedges: “Dying for an iPhone” 

[Scheerpost, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021] 

Global capitalists have turned back the clock to the early days of the Industrial Revolution.  The working class is increasingly bereft of rights, blocked from forming unions, paid starvation wages, subject to wage theft, under constant surveillance, fired for minor infractions, exposed to dangerous carcinogens, forced to work overtime, given punishing quotas and abandoned when they are sick and old. Workers have become, here and abroad, disposable cogs to corporate oligarchs, who wallow in obscene personal wealth that dwarfs the worst excesses of the Robber Barons

Amazon Prime Is an Economy-Distorting Lie 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 5-31-2021]

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021]


How a Wave of Corporate Takeovers Ushered In the Gospel of Shareholder Value 

[Promarket, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021]

An excerpt from University of Chicago history professor Jonathan Levy’s new book, Ages of American Capitalism. Lambert Strether observes: “This is very good except it has one bit of causality wrong. In 1976, the Department of Labor liberalized its interpretation of ERISA to look at risk on a portfolio basis, rather than on an investment by investment basis. That allowed for more investment in stocks and made “alternative investments” like venture capital fair game. It was VC industry, not the funds, that pushed for the rule change. Public pension funds are not governed by ERISA but still follow its principles. The reasons the funds liked higher return investments was it allowed them to lower current contributions.”

I have not seen the book, but this excerpt makes it appear that Levy believes the wave of corporate takeovers began in the 1970s. This is the “common wisdom,” which is wrong, because it ignores the actual beginnings in the 1950s and 1960s, when dirty money from organized crime began to “go legit.” Among the first examples are the late 1950s piracy by Charles Bludhorn, which resulted in Gulf & Western, a favorite vehicle for mob money to take over Hollywood studios. It was Bludhorn who facilitated Michele Sindona’s purchase of a controlling interest in Franklin National Bank. Sindona was the banker for the Italian mafia as well as the Gambino crime family, and died in 1986 of cyanide poison in his morning coffee while in an Italian prison for ordering the murder of an Italian prosecutor.

CEOs Are the Problem 

Daron Acemoglu [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 6-4-2021]

...Are today’s corporate executives ushering in a new era of corporate responsibility? Or are they merely protecting their own power?

For decades, business leaders and prominent academics believed that corporations’ sole commitment was to their shareholders. Previously a fringe view, the publication of a New York Times op-ed by Milton Friedman in 1970 – “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits” – moved this perspective toward the mainstream. It gained further momentum within academia following a number of articles by Harvard Business School’s Michael Jensen, who offered theoretical and empirical support for Friedman’s doctrine. For example, in one influential paper, Jensen and Kevin Murphy of the University of Southern California….

But this academic research was following more than leading the trend. By the 1980s, CEOs like General Electric’s Jack Welch and scores of management consulting companies had already normalized the preoccupation with shareholder value….

ExxonMobil, Philip Morris, and Facebook are virtue signaling because they are under increasing pressure from civil society, not because their CEOs suddenly have become more public-spirited. That kind of pressure is needed now to block any reforms that would give executives even more discretion. But civic activism works better when laws specify what counts as unacceptable corporate behavior, be it tax evasion, excessive automation, pollution, or accounting tricks to enrich shareholders and greedy managers.

There is no reason to believe that ExxonMobil, Philip Morris, and Facebook are committed to overhauling their socially destructive business models. Their public-relations efforts reflect the pressure they are feeling. Civic activism is starting to work….


Billionaires are racing to sidestep President Biden’s plan to raise their taxes

[Vox, via The Big Picture 6-3-2021]

Over the last few weeks, more than a few wealthy executives and investors — including those who made their fortunes in the tech industry — have fired off emails and marched into meetings with their money managers in a state of panic. Would they really have to pay a capital gains tax that could mean more than half of their yearly earnings go to either the federal or California government? Would their children really be unable to access the intergenerational wealth that the family’s patriarchs and matriarchs worked so hard to build?

Yes, there are “mini freakouts in every client meeting we have,” said one wealth manager for Silicon Valley’s rich.

To prepare for a world in which Biden’s plans might become reality, wealthy people across the Bay Area are rushing to have their teams draw up legal documents to try to prepare for Biden’s plan potentially passing.

Predatory Finance

The Fed Becomes the Nation’s Only Bank Regulator

David Dayen, June 5, 2021 [The American Prospect]

A series of Federal Reserve officials have moved into key regulatory slots at other agencies.

Restoring balance

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021]


North Minneapolis renters wage a fight with private equity landlords 

[Minneapolis StarTribune, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021]

Climate and environmental crises

How many people has climate change killed already? 

[Grist, via Naked Capitalism 6-4-2021]

Information Age Dystopia

Sentenced by Algorithm

Judge Jed Rakoff [New York Review, via Naked Capitalism 5-30-2021]

Is it fair for a judge to increase a defendant’s prison time on the basis of an algorithmic score that predicts the likelihood that he will commit future crimes? Many states now say yes, even when the algorithms they use for this purpose have a high error rate, a secret design, and a demonstrable racial bias….

One might think that the very notion of a defendant having his prison time determined not just by the crime of which he was convicted, but also by a prediction that he will commit other crimes in the future, would be troubling on its face. Such “incapacitation”—depriving the defendant of the capacity to commit future crimes—is usually defended on the grounds that it protects the public and is justifiable as long as the sentence is still within the limits set by the legislature for the crime. But the reality is that the defendant is receiving enhanced punishment for crimes he hasn’t committed, and that seems wrong.

Nonetheless, Congress and state legislatures have long treated incapacitation as a legitimate goal of sentencing. 


Dumb Democrats

“Down With Institutionalists”

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 6-4-21]

When Democrats tout bipartisanship as a kind of moral duty, they’re setting an impossible standard for themselves and giving cover to Republicans’ bad-faith refusal to cooperate and govern….

One might think that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, always high on the list of famous institutionalists, would have sought justice after his physical institution was attacked by a violent mob of insurrectionists on January 6. Instead, he led his caucus to filibuster the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly incident. In response, another institutionalist, Senator Joe Manchin, said, “That is extremely frustrating and disturbing. I know he’s an institutionalist. I would like to think he loves this institution.” And yet the day before the vote, Manchin once again voiced his opposition to eliminating the filibuster, even when used to prevent an investigation of the people who tried to destroy our government, because, by his puzzling construction, “I’m not ready to destroy our government.” The institutionalists are so committed to institutionalism that they cannot protect the institution.

Conservative / Libertarian / Republican Drive to Civil War

General Motors, Best Buy, PayPal Talk Up Voting Rights, Then Fund Effort to Restrict Them 

[Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021] 

Resistance to vaccine mandates is building. A powerful network is helping. 

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 6-2-2021]

Michael Flynn Calls for Myanmar-Style Coup in the U.S. 

[Daily Beast, via Naked Capitalism 6-1-2021]

Over 30 Million Americans Believe in QAnon’s Most Outrageous Conspiracy

[Vice, May 27, 2021]

….[as] indicators of a predilection to believing in QAnon, the single best predictor is which TV news station you watch, with those who favor right-wing sources up to nine times more likely to believe in the conspiracy than those who trust mainstream broadcast network news. 

That’s the finding of a new survey from the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which surveyed over 5,500 adults in all 50 states over a two week period in early March.

Nationally, the survey found that a whopping 15% of Americans—roughly 31 million people—believed in the completely unfounded claim that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

….people who trusted right-wing news sources—such as One America News and Newsmax—were the most inclined to believe in core QAnon conspiracies, with 40% of them agreeing with the statement about Satan-worshipping pedophiles running a global child sex trafficking operation.

In retreat, they are salting the earth behind them

subtropolis [DailyKos, June 03, 2021]

Experts call it a ‘clown show’ but Arizona ‘audit’ is a disinformation blueprint

[NPR, June 3, 2021, via DailyKos]

To Matt Masterson, the review of 2020 ballots from Maricopa County, Ariz., that's currently underway is "performance art" or "a clown show," and definitely "a waste of taxpayer money."

But it's not an audit.

"It's an audit in name only," says Masterson, a former Department of Homeland Security official who helped lead the federal government's election security preparations leading up to November's election. "It's a threat to the overall confidence of democracy, all in pursuit of continuing a narrative that we know to be a lie."

…."It's terrifying," Morrell said. "We've suddenly said it's OK to hand our ballots over to a third-party organization with political bias, with no experience, who get to make up the rules and then make a decision or a determination based on what they do on whether or not the outcome of the election was correct."


Private "audit" efforts are now sprouting in other swing states like Michigan, Georgia and Wisconsin.

"The incentive structure that has been created is one in which so far we've seen zero accountability for lying and pushing these narratives," Masterson, the former DHS official, said. "We don't see anyone really, truly being held accountable."

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