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Do People Matter Most Or Does Property?

2017 June 19
by Ian Welsh

As you’ve probably read, there was a terrible fire in Britain, and hundreds of people were left homeless.

They were living in a council hi-rise building, Grenfell Tower. It had no sprinkler system, and the cladding which had been put on it, to make it look nicer, because rich people live nearby, was combustible.  The incombustible version of the cladding would have cost, total, about five thousand pounds more than the flammable version, and the council is the richest council in Britain, with a huge budget surplus.

So the fire went thru the building like a gasoline fire on cardboard, and at least 58 people died.

Clearly, very unimportant people.

What has happened since the fire is fascinating, however.

Corbyn suggested requisitioning unoccupied flats nearby and housing these homeless people in them.  This is the richest part of London, despite having a poor area in it, and as you’re probably aware, rich London has a lot of unoccupied homes. Almost 20,000 that authorities are aware of.

While a majority of British, to their credit support Corbyn’s idea, there’s been a great deal of resistance, and, of course, the Tory government is making no effort to follow his suggestion.

And Corbyn points out, further, that not helping these new homeless people is deliberate helplessness:

“It cannot be acceptable that in London you have luxury buildings and luxury flats kept as land banking for the future while the homeless and the poor look for somewhere to live.”

And in an interview on ITV on Sunday, Mr Corbyn said the flats could be requisitioned by the government or bought using compulsory purchase orders.

“Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it – there’s a lot of things you can do.

“But can’t we as a society just think, it’s all very well putting our arms around people during the crisis but homelessness is rising, the housing crisis is getting worse and my point was quite a simple one.

“In an emergency, you have to bring all assets to the table in order to deal with that crisis and that’s what I think we should be doing in this case.”

….

“Every day at Heathrow, planes get delayed. Hundreds of people get stranded at airports all over the world,” he said.

“Hotels are found for them immediately, they are sorted out. Four-hundred-or-so people, still most of them have not got somewhere decent, safe or secure to stay in.

“Somehow or other, it seems to be beyond the wit of the public services to deal with the crisis facing a relatively small number of people in a country of 65 million.”

What is irritating is just this, that so many problems we have are easily solved and we choose not to solve them. There are plenty of empty houses, requisition them.

Some years back I saw a statistic that Europe had twice as many empty homes as homeless people, and America had five times as many.

And yet there are homeless people?

As for the housing crisis in many cities, well, at the least rent wouldn’t be rising so fast if we had kept rent control in place; and prices wouldn’t be rising so fast if we didn’t allow homes to stay empty for long periods or to be owned by foreigners who don’t live in them.  As for increasing the housing supply, we could just build more housing, but don’t.

Oh yes, public housing is often terrible, but that, again, is because we don’t prioritize it: we underfund it, don’t repair it, etc… You can’t credibly say it’s all on the poors when you don’t even put in a sprinkler system; when you won’t spend 5k to put on inflammable vs. flammable cladding.

Every time public housing or co-ops open up in most major cities there are huge line ups and waiting lists for them.  There’s demand, but no supply.

Our society runs on a simple ethic: nothing can be allowed to happen if someone important doesn’t get rich doing it.  Having the government build housing isn’t nearly as profitable as building hi rises for Chinese ex-pats who pay millions per apartment and then, half the time, don’t even live there.

Is profit more important than people? Are property rights more important than whether people are sleeping outside?

The answer to both these questions, as we all know, is “yes, profits and property rights matter more than people’s welfare.”

But should they?

That’s the question that the British are in the middle of answering. And, to their credit, it seems like there’s a good chance that for the first time since Margaret Thatcher was elected, they’re considering changing their answer back to “human welfare comes first.”

(Also, check out the pictures of Corbyn in this article. His personal warmth, if combined with policy that works, means he will own Britain when he is Prime Minister. Because he actually does care.)


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The Sort of Behaviour That Gets You a Robespierre

2017 June 17
by Ian Welsh

And well-deserved it will be. (Mylan makes the Epi-pen, which went from $90 to $600, and which schools are required to buy by law to stop fatal allergic reactions.)

While I actually find this pretty funny, it’s also the sort of thing that makes me think, “up against the wall,” because a lot of people are dying so that Coury can get rich.

Now, I, of course, would never condone political violence. I believe that poor people and, lately, middle class people should just die, or just do non-violent things and never, ever, ever do violent things when their lords and masters are getting rich off of their own backs and the backs and lives of their children.

But it might be, it just might be, that others might not be as committed to pacifism as I, and that when things go sideways, they might remember the people who engaged in this sort of profit gouging.

Might?

Might not.

But perhaps our lords and masters have become overly insulated from the results of their actions.

I am reminded of what Mark Twain wrote about the Terror.

THERE were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

‘Nough said.

Oh, and Coury? He deserves a round of anatomically challenging self-fulfillment.


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The Congressional Shooting and Political Violence

2017 June 15

Alright, so someone took a shot at Congressional Republicans and killed no one, though one Congressperson was injured badly.

I find that I am unable to care about this. No one died (because they had police protection).

However, there is a great deal of stupidity and hypocrisy floating around about this. Let us start with the hypocrisy.

So, it happens to people they know, without anyone even dying, and they’re all breaking up in tears. As someone else said, did they cry for Sandy Hook or Pulse? To hell with them, especially as they belong to the class with the most responsibility for mass shootings.

Now, to the stupidity from my favorite highly-educated idiot:

I usually don’t talk about anything Ezra says, because his entire career has been about sucking up to those in power.  But, well, this is a teaching moment.

Here’s a lovely chart:

Isn’t that a wonderful chart?

What do you think happened to suddenly raise the incarceration rate?

Right…the War on (some) Drugs.

So, something that wasn’t illegal became illegal. Making it illegal didn’t reduce its use, but did make using it much more unsafe.

What happens in prisons? Well, a lot of violence, including a lot of rape.

Is that political violence? Well, it wouldn’t have happened if politicians hadn’t made a decision to make something legal, illegal, which increased harm to everyone and didn’t make the situation any better.

That is political violence.

Of course there is also non-domestic political violence—like Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, and so on. A lot of people died due to those entirely political decisions. Not one of those countries attacked the US. Not one.

But now “real people” have been attacked, and they are in tears. They had no tears for dead children.

But they have tears for themselves.


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Is Impeaching Trump a Good Idea?

2017 June 13
by Ian Welsh

I’m really not sure it is.

Trump has been vastly incompetent at his job. He hasn’t appointed almost any administrative appointees, he’s embroiled in endless scandals, and he’s basically outsourcing policy to Rand Paul and various thinktanks.

Not that he isn’t doing bad things, but the main thing is that he’s very ineffective and he’s his own worst enemy.

(I am not in the least concerned that a man who hasn’t filled almost any DoD posts is going to launch a coup, so I don’t consider this fear a reason to impeach him.)

Now, there is an argument that he should be impeached simply because, well, he’s committed impeachable offenses. Starting, in my opinion, with the emoluments clause: He very clearly receives money from foreigners every day.

But in political terms, he’s ineffective, and there’s good reason to believe that Pence would be much less ineffective. Pence is a theocrat’s theocrat and will push a set of horrible policies. Plus, Pence doesn’t have foot in mouth disease. Pence will fill up all these administrative slots post-haste with a combination of Christian college graduates and the regular Republican apparatchniks, and he will have enough sense to perform basic tasks properly, like have lawyers check over administrative orders thoroughly.

In short, Pence will be much more effective at doing harm than Trump is.

I think, in terms of harm reduction, a badly wounded, unpopular Trump is far less dangerous than Pence.


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A Time of Hope

2017 June 12
by Ian Welsh

I have been writing a long time. For most of that time, people said I was “pessimistic” and I replied that what they saw as pessimism was realism.

What I foretold, in broad strokes, has come to pass. Climate change is past the point of no return, the housing bubble burst, austerity was a disaster, and it emboldened the far right.

When I first started writing, I tried to push the Democrats to go left, to try to mobilize people who don’t vote to vote by offering them policies that worked for them. I advised them to engage in intensive outreach, because I, as many others, noted that people who don’t vote are a lot more left-wing than people who do vote. People don’t vote because they feel disenfranchised; none of the major parties represent them.

After the election of Donald Trump, I had an interview with Jay Ackroyd, and he said that as long as he’d known me, I’d been more pessimistic than others, but now I was optimistic, and what gives?

Simple, the trends had turned.

Sanders happened and he did better than any self-avowed socialist in the US in my lifetime. He came very close to winning the nomination, despite the Democratic party fixing it against him.

Corbyn happened, in that he won the leadership of the Labour party and then fought off an attempted coup.

The trends had changed.

The time of neoliberalism was clearly ending, which I had noted repeatedly. That meant that we were moving into a time of change. Now, I had expected, following Stirling Newberry, that this period of decline in neoliberalism would first hit in 2020/24, but these are the pre-shocks.

That doesn’t mean we’re out of danger. It is not guaranteed that the left wins in every country, as it did not in the 30s. The far right and the populist left both have an opportunity in this era: The old verities are dead, and people are looking for a different way to run societies. They can go authoritarian, indeed totalitarian, or they can go populist left and no, there really aren’t any other options, though far right and populist left have variations: all types of populist left aren’t the same and shouldn’t be seen as the same.

But neoliberalism was a shit ideology: Its project was impoverishing millions to make as many billionaires as possible. Ignore the bullshit about the third world; during the post-war era, the third world was improving faster than during the neo-liberal era, but without cramming down first world middle and working classes.

Neoliberalism, with its market worship, was completely incapable of dealing with climate change. Proper government intervention to goose markets would have had us where we are today with renewables (cheaper than coal) 20 years ago– which is what we needed, and would have moved up the timeline for electric cars as well as the essentially, wholly undone project of energy-neutral and carbon-neutral building, while not allowing the oceans to be destroyed.

Markets work best when government intervenes in the correct ways. Neoliberalism intervened, in essence, only to reduce regulation and push money towards rich people: This did not make markets more competitive, it made them more prone to monopoly and oligopoly. (This is not even close to being in question, it shows up in all the data. Anyone arguing otherwise is a liar or a fool.)

So, neoliberalism failed to deal with climate change or ecological collapse and, by vastly increasing inequality and failing to regulate markets, caused both political and economic instability. Asset prices should not rise faster than median wages over long periods. If they do so, something is wrong. That most economists and policy makers could not recognize this shows their corruption and foolishness, as well as the uselessness of mainstream economics to understand its own subject matter.

I am, therefore, not optimistic, but realistic: I say that we are moving out of an era where problems could only be solved if they made someone a billionaire and are moving to an era where we will be able to start actually fixing problems that matter.

This is a high-risk period, and I, as have many, have tried to reform neoliberalism, to fix problems without having to enter an era of war and revolution, to fix them before it was too late (as it is now for catastrophic climate change).

That didn’t work. So be it. This is where we are.

But unlike in 2009, with the co-opted and corrupt Barack Obama taking the throne and throwing away the last chance to avoid the worst of what is now baked-in, we now have some real reasons to hope along with all the baked-in catastrophes we’ve had handed to us.

Oh, yes, Trump.

Yeah, he’s bad, and he’ll be bad for a lot of people, but I am not worried when it comes to the big picture because he’s incompetent. I never thought he’d be Hitler and the idea that he will launch a successful coup is now completely risible: He is far too incompetent. He’s supposed to launch a coup and he hasn’t even filled over 90 percent of all senior administrative posts at the Pentagon?

Get a grip.

In fact, as I thought at the time (and at that time I thought he was more competent than he’s proved to be), Trump may well be an innoculation against someone worse. Someone competent, running on actual right-wing populism, say, Bannon with charisma, could well have turned America into a fascist state for two generations.

Trump? No. And his failure provides a clear warning of the danger and may discredit those policies. (It is amusing that liberals are obsessed with getting rid of him. Pence will be far worse, because he will be competent and agrees with every bad part of Trump’s platform and none of the good parts (which, granted, aren’t happening anyway).)

Chin up. We failed to reform the system, and now we are in an era of great instability. Lots of countries are still being staggeringly stupid, like France electing Macron to destroy their entire labor code and impoverish themselves, when Melenchon was available.

But the left–the populist left–is rising. We saw it with Sanders, and we are seeing it with Corbyn, who may actually be the first world leader of the new era and the new era’s ideology–just as Thatcher was the first great neoliberal leader (even if she was not called that at the time).

It will be ugly. There will be wars and revolutions. There will be periods where the old order does horrible things (Macron, Merkel’s destruction of Greece and impoverishment of the South) and where the new order of the right does terrible things.

But it is now, also, possible to do many of the right things, like re-nationalizing natural monopolies, ending the student loan bubble and the exploitation of the young, repairing universal healthcare in the UK, creating it in the US, and so on.

There are no guarantees. We got lucky in the 30s, though it may not seem like it. Imagine if, instead of FDR, the US had wound up with some fascist? Many Americans at the time thought it possible.

Still, we now have the chance to be lucky, which was simply not possible when we were societies under neoliberalism. Under neoliberalism, some individuals could get lucky and obscenely rich, but generally the whole population could not benefit.

Now we can. And that is reason for hope. So hope. Don’t be optimistic, just be realistic about the opportunities as well as the dangers opening up.


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The Hung UK Parliament

2017 June 9
by Ian Welsh

The final results are 318 for the Conservatives, 262 for Labour, 35 for the SNP (Scottish), 12 for the Liberal Democrats, 10 for DUP (Democratic Unionist) and 13 “Other.”

There are 650 seats total, meaning 326 are needed for a majority.

DUP is who the Conservatives will govern with, and they are the Protestant Unionists in Northern Ireland. Not very nice people and associated with violence carried out on behalf of staying in the UK.

Labour will not be forming the government, odds are, but this is a victory for Labour in that the Conservatives’ majority is reduced to a minority.

72 percent of 18-24 year olds voted, which is unprecedented to my knowledge.

The takeaway is simple: Left-wing neoliberalism is dying (and with luck is dead), in England. A straight up message of nationalizing railroads and energy, of free tuition, of building homes, did far better than the neoliberals have done in years.

This was a two party election–third parties shed followers.

Corbyn outperformed massively, which is the risk of demonizing one’s enemies. Having screamed about how terrible he was, Blairites are reduced to saying, “Anyone else would have done better, May was awful.” After they’ve lost two elections to Corbyn and been wrong about him three times, this sounds weak.

Center-right parties are dying or reinventing themselves. There is no appetite for mealy-mouthed neoliberalism. Go all right, or go what passes these days for hard-left. The demographics are 100 percent on the left’s side: The younger people are, the more left-wing they are, and now, they’re even voting when offered politics which appeal to them.

I mean, given the university loans crisis, it seems like basic, no-brainer politics to offer them debt-forgiveness and free tuition.

In more immediate terms, the question is whether May will survive. Boris Johnson is likely sharpening his knife collection as we speak: She didn’t have to call this election and she lost her majority in it, after a terrible personal performance in which she appeared scared to be in the same room as Corbyn.

The second issue is when the next election will be. Is a coalition with the DUP in the works? Is it a strong coalition? It wouldn’t take much for the Conservatives to lose a vote of no-confidence and be back at the polling booths, though other parties will be reluctant to knock them out–and with good reason, fearing that Britons will punish them for having to go back to the polls so immediately.

A new election may be necessary, soon, and accepted as such, if the Conservatives find themselves unable to effectively negotiate Brexit.

I shall be interested to see if Labour MPs, who still hate Corbyn, launch another attack. There have been gestures of peace, but many will never give Corbyn credit for anything, and genuinely do disagree with his politics. I assume, however, that they will at least wait a while, while continuing to snipe and leak in hopes of weakening him.

We shall see.

Overall, I’m very happy with this result. I expect(ed) the realignment to take till 2020/24 for demographic reasons, but this is an early earthquake sign of better politics to come.


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The Labour Surge in Britain (Election Day Thread)

2017 June 6

Update 2: Betting markets now think Corbyn will be PM. I cannot, in my entire life, recall an election I have been so happy to watch.

Update: Exit polls point to a hung parliament, Tories with the most seats, which means they’ll be given the first chance to form a government. But we’ll see.

Leaving this up on election day. Anecdotally, more young people are voting than usual. We’ll see. Corbyn’s probably the best candidate I’ve seen in my adult life and I’m hoping he wins. Use this is a thread related to the election.

So, Brits vote on Thursday for a new government. When the election was called, the Conservatives under May were up over Labour by more than 20 percent in most polls. Today, the spread has tightened, with Labour behind in most polls–but not all.

As was the case in the US with Sanders v. Clinton, the divide is generational. Those aged under 44 are for Corbyn and aged over 44 are for May. The younger they get, the more they’re for Corbyn. The problem, as everyone has pointed out, is turnout: Youngs tend to vote less.

Even the best polling doesn’t show a straight up Labour victory, it shows the Tories failing to get a majority. Polls in Britain have tended to be wrong away from Conservatives, but, given how unreliable polls have been over the past few years, I certainly have no idea how this will go. I certainly didn’t expect the election to be this close when it was called, though I’m very glad to be wrong.

Unless Labour wins, expect that Labour MPs will launch another coup attempt against Corbyn, even if his results are good.

I want to emphasize that they are doing so for ideological reasons. The excuse that Corbyn was hopeless doesn’t cut it any longer, but they will still try to take him down. This is because they genuinely don’t believe in his politics: They want to be slightly less cruel Conservatives, not 60s style social democrats updated to treat women and non-whites well.

Those are their genuine beliefs: They’re neoliberals. They blocked censuring Tony Blair for Iraq, they like cruel austerity politics, and war.

It’s interesting how much better Corbyn has done during the campaign: It seems that when the media can no longer lie about him as much, and when May no longer has the media covering for her incoherence and, well, excusing her repeated refusals to appear in public (which are now looking like cowardice not calculation), Corbyn shines.

Certainly, Corbyn regularly gets rock star treatment: The people who like Corbyn really like him. No one is enthusiastic for May.

So, we’ll know soon. No prediction from me, but a preference. May will do incalculable harm if she gets a term: gutting worker and environmental rights, social welfare, and the NHS. Brits have another possibility. This is the last off-ramp. If they don’t take it, it’s on them.

 

The Cause of the Opiate Epidemic

2017 June 4
by Ian Welsh

Let us introduce you to Rat Park. You’ve heard the story about how addictive drugs are. Put a rat in a cage with a lever for water and a lever for water with drugs (heroin/cocaine) and without drugs, and the rat will soon be hitting the lever for drugs as fast as it can.

Drugs are sooooo addictive.

Right.

Well, here’s Rat Park.

Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: Everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Sigh.

Somehow the story of Rat Park doesn’t get told often. I’ve read a lot on pain policy and addiction, and I hadn’t heard of it until recently.

Why is that, I wonder?

What has changed in the US to cause the “sudden” opiate epidemic, do you think?

Well, we all know the answer. The US isn’t “Human Park” any more, it’s a dystopian nightmare, full of poverty, despair, and people isolated from friends and family. The social welfare stats for large parts of the country are in free fall.

When life is shit, people turn to chemical joy–or chemical anaesthesia, at least.

What the US is doing is cracking down on opiate use, as if it’s a criminal problem. OR they are pretending it’s a medical problem.

It’s neither. It’s a social and economic problem, and its to do with a society which offers shitty lives for people.

In the 1800s, Emile Durkheim, the pioneering sociologist, did a study on suicide. He did it specifically because suicide seemed like the most individual of decisions.

And he found that it wasn’t; the likelihood and number of suicides tracked social engagement almost exactly. Roman Catholics committed suicide the least and had the strongest social ties. After the Catholics were the Protestants, then then non-religious, and those categories tracked how much social contact people had.

Most of who we are is other people and our relations to them. Most of the rest is our environment. Decisions that seem like they are made by individuals are really only partially so; they are informed by the environment in which we live. They are influenced by people, economic opportunities, and beauty, or the availability of love, friendship, security, and hope.

The opiate epidemic won’t be “fixed” through criminilization or medicalization: Even if opiate overdoses go down, people will turn to other forms of self-destructive behavior. This is because the problem isn’t opiate availability, it is that their lives are objectively shit.

Want to fix the opiate epidemic? Start with a 90 percent marginal tax rate on the richest people in America and spend the money on making everyone else’s lives better. Oh, and do simple stuff like universal health care, which, well, costs less and produces better results and doesn’t lead to despair, because people know that if they get sick they’ll get the care they need and it won’t cost them everything.


The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.