I think Schadenfraude nicely sums up what I’m feeling about Obama’s troubles with his signature health care bill, though I do feel sorry for people who are being hurt by Obamacare.
It’s not the website that is killing Obama, of course, it’s the cancellation of pre-existing policies (though the website is an unforced mistake). Obama told people they could keep their policies, but that decision was never his to make, it was up to insurance companies. Since there is no robust public option, Obama does not have any significant leverage over the insurance companies, there is nothing he can do to them, so why shouldn’t they do what is in their best interest?
Please don’t say something like “because that would hurt people” because I’d laugh so hard I might rupture something. Insurance companies are run by evil people as a class, and they make their money, not by providing care but by denying it. The more care they deny, the more money they make. One of my friends once designed medical “interest free” loans for people who needed life-saving operations. Sounds like a deal, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s zero interest on list price, not on what the insurance company was paying. The company was making a hundred to two hundred percent profit per policy. Nice business to be in, if you have no soul.
When you are dealing with bad people, you must assume bad faith; bad behavior. You must plan for it. The best option was always Medicare-for-all (and I was told by at least one House staffer that they could pass it if they really wanted to and were willing to go nuclear.) The problem with Obama has always been this sickening need to be one of the boys. He appears to genuinely like and genuinely admire the people who have “made it” in this society—people like Jamie Dimon and the people who run insurance and drug companies. He thinks you can make deals with these people, and make sure everyone wins.
You can’t. These people are the most successful parasites ever produced by our nasty form of sociopathic capitalism. You can only give them what they want or you can rip them from the body politic, so they stop sucking the blood from the host they’re killing.
So the insurance companies have bitten the hand that fed them. Obama gave them everything they wanted and made sure nothing of importance they didn’t want (like a public option) was in the bill. Now they’re chomping and chewing, destroying what remains of his presidency.
He has reaped as he sowed.
This is going to get worse. As Corrente has repeatedly pointed out, the provider networks on the low cost plans are extremely thin. People are going to find out that they’re only covered in theory, that there is no hospital that treats their type of cancer anywhere near them, for example. They’re going to find out that they’re paying for coverage they cannot, in effect, use, for any number of reasons. Drug costs will continue to rise, as well, since Obama carefully made sure all methods of reducing them were made illegal.
Obamacare was, and is, a subsidy. A way of keeping the insurance companies going; of keeping the current healthcare system going. The good, gold-plated private insurance plans, unless you’re an executive, are pretty much gone. As such everyone had to be forced to buy a shitty private insurance plan. It will definitely help some people, some people will win, but many people will lose.
I will point out, for what feels like the millionth time, that simply putting everyone on Medicare would have been less expensive per person and produced better outcomes. Even a robust public option would have given Obama leverage, because the insurance companies would have been scared everyone would migrate over to it, and so would have needed to treat people well.
But this… this is the worst of all worlds, and that is how it was designed to be.
It’s unclear to me how much of this is corruption (rest assured, Obama, like Clinton, will make tens of millions miraculously quickly on leaving office) and how much is some pathological need to be one of the boys, but I am clear that this failure is the inevitable product of how Obamacare was designed.
We are what we do. What we experience during our daily lives creates our habits, both of action and thought and those habitual actions and thoughts are our character. The character of men and women, and the shared character of a society is destiny: it determines how we respond to what happens, it is as close to fate as exists in a world awash in choice, where we make the choices we are expected to.
The defining characteristic of growing up in the modern world is school. In school we are taught to sit still, speak only when we are allowed to by an authority figure, and do meaningless work that is not suited to us. For the bright kids, school is stultifying. They sit there bored out of their skulls by how slowly the class proceeds. For the active child, school is stultifyingly boring because they are told to sit on their butt for most of the day, when they’d rather be doing something physical. For the creative child (which is all children, till they have it schooled out of them), school is, yes, stultifyingly boring, since it is all doing what someone else tells you to.
Outside of class school is about nasty peer pressure and fitting in. Even if you aren’t a loser or a loner, even if you belong to a clique, you quickly understand what happens to someone who doesn’t fit in, who doesn’t do whatever it takes to belong to an in-group. Our society is rife with comments about how something is “high school all over again”, and we don’t mean anything good by that, we mean a horrible game of cool kids and jocks and geeks and fitting in or getting ostracized at best, possibly beaten down, and worse for the truly unlucky.
By the time we get out of school most have been trained to do what authority figures tell us, had the creativity taken out of us, lost all real intellectual curiosity because intellectual pursuits are associated with the horrors of school, learned that nothing is more important than fitting in and that popularity matters more than virtually everything else. We have come to accept that we don’t make choices except from whatever choices are offered us: “you may write an essay from the following list of topics/you may select from the following list of electives”.
Our adult life is little different. We have some more choices, but most of us will work for someone else, and that someone else will tell us what to do, how do it, where to do it (at their workplace) and when to do it. Our consumer existence, in which we appear to have choices, mostly involves choices between Brands X,Y & Z, and the choice between brands is almost always completely minor: the differences are not substantial. More importantly, again, we choose from choices offered us, we do not create our own choices.
This issue has arisen since most people have entered formal schooling as children and since people have moved into wage labor. Before the late 19th century you do not see this type of conditioning (though they had their types) in the majority of the population. Mandatory regimented schooling, and wage labor, in which we do not decide what we do with our time has made things very different from the previous society.
One of my uncles lived in, call it, the pre-industrialization lifestyle. He was a farmer and a fisherman (and hunted on the side, for food for his plate). He had huge lists of work to do, but he chose when to do it and how to do it. He controlled his own life. This is how free farmers and artisans used to live. In the day to day detail of their lives, believe it or not, even many peasants had more freedom than most industrial and post-industrial workers do.
This has grown worse over the last three decades.
Free play time, as a child, was when we used to have choice. As a child, outside of school I had to be home for meals and bedtime, otherwise I was my own boy. I had very few toys, and I and my friends made our games of make-believe. I created the rules to my own games, made my own pieces, and played them. I ran wild through the neighbourhood, living a hundred different imaginary lives from books and movies, but also ones I made up myself. My parents did not try to control the details of my life beyond making sure I got to school and got fed, so long as I didn’t cause (too much) trouble.
Oh, it was still a regimented life, but it was a much less regimented life than today’s helicopter children experience. The conformity of that late industrial society, oddly, was less than the conformity pushed on children for the last couple decades by their own parents.
The workforce has in some respects also become worse. The sort of micro-control that is commonplace in Amazon warehouses, with a supervisor electronically watching you every second, was almost impossible in the past. The sort of micro-measurement of productivity was also impossible in most jobs, though certainly, assembly lines were hell. In most jobs, your boss had to give you the work and check in later to see if it was done and how well. As long as it got done, you were fine.
Again, to be sure, there were micro-supervised jobs even then, but technology has made it possible to micro-supervise the sort of work which simply could not be supervised then.
And when you left work there were no cell-phones, no pagers, no lap-tops. For the vast majority of workers, once they left work, work was done for the day, they were not, for all intents and purposes on 24-7 call.
High surveillance societies produce conformity, because we are what we do. What we do forms our habits, our habits form our character. If you are constantly under your boss’s thumb, you learn to reflexively act in ways that will satisfy your boss. Of course we all rebel where we can, but the margins for that grow smaller and smaller.
We have created a society where people live regimented lives, doing what they are told, choosing from choices given to them, learning that nothing matters more than popularity and constantly under supervision or at the beck and call of their teachers, bosses and other lords and masters (including their parents, sorry parents).
This is not a society that makes people happy. There is good reason to believe (Diener) that rates of depression are about 10X higher than they were one hundred years ago. But more to the point, it is a society that creates people with the type of character that does not produce better futures, because they are conditioned to choose only from what is offered them, to sit down, shut up and do what they are told, and to play popularity games. If you don’t, well, no good job for you, or no job at all, and in this society having very little money is very unpleasant. We do not think up our own options, create our own politics, choose options outside of the limited ones offered by our lords and masters.
We have been created this way, conditioned this way, trained this way, by the everyday experience of our lives, starting from a very young age. To be sure, this is far from the only reason our societies are dysfunctional and careening from disaster to disaster, there are very real material constraints on what people can do in this society, largely through control of who is given money and credit, but it is a major reason for our problems. We have been shaped into people our lords and masters sincerely hope are not fitted to freedom, not able to make choices outside what they offer, not able to challenge them effectively, and well suited to the trivial jobs they want us to perform, mostly fighting over which billionaire is the richest.
If you want a free people, you must free your minds, but free minds come from the exercise of practical everyday freedom.
It will be impossible to save the world from climate change without coercion. The problem of climate change is a problem of common sinks and limited resources: the atmosphere can only absorb so much carbon, the seas only have so many fish and can only withstand us dumping so much plastic and other pollutants into them. The world has only so many forests, and so on.
These are genuinely limited resources. Dumping into them, or chopping them down, or overfishing them is an advantage to whoever does it: they can burn dirty (cheap) fuels, they can use plastic packaging consumers like, they can have fish to eat now.
It is rational, in the sense that you receive a benefit, to destroy the world. It is especially rational to do so if you expect to be dead before the costs come to bear, or if you think you can use your money to avoid the worst of climate change.
We have an additional problem: no one has jurisdiction over all of the atmosphere, all of the seas, all of the forests. If country A decides not to pollute or dump or cut down forests, someone else can do more of that and gain a short term benefit. And by short term benefit I mean “some of the decision makers and their friends will personally get rich. Filthy, stinking, rich.” (This is also one problem with refusing to have high marginal taxation, capital taxes, estate taxes and corporate taxes. People are less interested in destroying the world when they’ll only make a little bit off it. The calculus does change somewhat.)
So how do you ensure that Brazil doesn’t destroy the rest of the Amazon, that Japan doesn’t radically overfish, or that the US doesn’t dump obscene amounts of carbon into the air per capita?
There are three essential approaches. The first is bribery: we’ll pay you not to do this. Up to a certain point this is necessary: if Brazilians can make more money chopping down jungle than keeping it around, why wouldn’t they? But everyone has the ability to do destroy the world, everyone can hold you hostage, and once people start, they don’t stop. Bribery only works if it is short term, if it becomes “we’ll pay for you to transition to a different economic model, but no more than that.”
The second is incentives. Why are the Brazilians chopping down the jungle? Because Americans want to eat beef. If Americans change how they eat, much less reason for the jungles to be chopped down. If we don’t want plastic to destroy the Oceans maybe we should just forbid most plastic packaging? It can be done, I grew up with paper bags and glass bottles, for example. I grew up in a culture where every food worker didn’t wear disposable plastic gloves. I survived, I guarantee you will too, no matter how much of a germphobe you are.
The third is coercion. You will not do this, and if you do we will do bad things to you. Lock you up, sink your ships, and if it comes to it, kill you.
Now let’s be clear, coercion underlies virtually all social relations. You pay taxes because if you don’t, somebody with a gun will come along and throw you in jail. You have property because men with guns enforce your property rights. You go to school, because if you don’t… well, you get the picture. No society has EVER existed that did not have some form of coercion available to it. In many hunter-gatherer societies that coercion was the simplest of all: expulsion. If you didn’t obey the rules, they kicked you out, and that meant death because no, most people cannot survive alone, and most people don’t want to.
Because there is an advantage to unilateral betrayal: to dumping your pollution on other people and letting them pay the cost, there will always be people who want to do it, and it’s not always worth trying to use incentives to get them not to: it swiftly becomes too expensive. The best approach is often to unilaterally take certain actions off the table: none of us will unilaterally take each others stuff. None of us will dump poisons into the air that kill other people we don’t know. None of us will, on net, allow forests to decrease. None of us will use plastic packaging.
This is the problem of collective action: if none of us do these things, we’re all better off. But if one of us or a few of us do it, we have an advantage over other people, and if other people are doing it, we need to do it to keep up.
This brings us to my comment, in my 44 Points Post about needing an armed force to protect the Oceans, a comment which caused much screaming, since people thought it violated my point about not wanting large standing armies.
An army and a police force are not the same thing. An international “Ocean Guard” is not a navy, it does not need destroyers with depth charges and nuclear submarines with missiles and Aircraft Carriers. It needs ships capable of find trawlers and boarding them. Police force.
But the key problem here is jurisdiction: no one has jurisdiction. No one can say to the US or China or India or Japan, “you will not do this!”
We must create institutions which have the authority to say “you will not pollute, you will not destroy the environment.” More than that, because we have gone too far, we are going to need institutions which can say “and you will also work to fix the environment.” Again, countries will want to not contribute, because if someone else does it, and you don’t, you get most of the benefits without the costs.
Now we can create a world economy which is not harmful to the environment and in which everyone is fed, clothed, has shelter and has a meaningful life with a good chance at happiness. We are going to have to, because people who are unhappy, who do not love, and are not loved, who are frightened, will do whatever they feel they must. We must drain the swamp of true need, of hunger, of great fear.
But that’s the end point: that’s where we must commit to go. Along the way, however, bad actors will have to be forced to stop what they are doing coercively.
Failure to do so means death and suffering. More death and suffering than is caused by coercively, say, sinking Trawlers or trade embargoing countries which won’t stop using plastic containers. We are in a situation where the median death estimate from climate change is probably a billion people.
We cannot entirely bribe and incentivize ourselves our way out of this problem, some coercion will be necessary. How much money would you have to pay Wall Street, for example, to stop doing what they do? As much, or more than they make doing what they do. How much to stop Big Oil? Same answer. We can’t afford it, that money, those resources, must be spent fixing the problem and taking care of ordinary people. So we must criminalize certain behaviour, on a world scale and then enforce it.
That is policing, if done right, not military action.
There are great big reasons to be scared of anything that looks like a world state. I have a preference for nations, because a world state that turns totalitarian is a nightmare, and a world state is also likely to lead to stagnation. My suggestion is to try federalization: specific bodies with specific enforcement, but they must have transnational police powers. There is no reason these bodies can’t be run by democratic methods, no reasons the courts they run can’t be fair and open. Our current transnational bodies aren’t democratic, indeed are anti-democratic, precisely because our elites don’t want them to be, but that is, again, a social choice.
We figure this problem out, or we fry. We need institutions for transnational action, institutions with police power, courts and which are democratically constituted. This isn’t an insoluble problem, either in general, or specific, except that it challenges the people who currently have power and who are currently getting filthy rich by destroying the environment, and in so doing likely killing a billion or more people, and conceivably, risking the future existence of humanity entirely.
Given the stakes, we’d best grow up. There is only one world, and until we get off it, it is a single point of failure. It must be dealt with as such.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty I have talking about the economy is that most people don’t understand what an economy is.
An economy is what people produce and the relations that make that production possible.
An economy is not money. Printing more money does not automatically increase the size of the economy as various episodes of hyperinflation clearly indicate, but also as the giant printing of money in the last five years should have shown to people.
Money is created by printing in a fiat economy, whether it is physically printed or not. When a bank creates a loan it simply adds numbers to various accounts, and it does not have to “have money to loan”. The same is true of brokerages offering loans for stock purchases and so on. There is no direct organic relation between the amount of money in the economy and the amount of economic activity.
Moreover it is quite possible to increase the amount of money in the economy while decreasing activity. When a huge loan is taken out to buy a company, and then the company has employees slashed and plants closed, real economic activity decreases, even as the amount of money increases. When you insist on 15% profits and obtain them by refusing to do needed maintainance, firing employees, doing stock buy-backs and so on, real economy activity decreases.
If you measure the output of an economy in money you get a very distorted picture of what is actually going on. There is less employment in the US in percentage terms than there was at peak, and absolute numbers are only now about getting even, yet people have been blathering on about a “recovery”.
It is quite possible for people to be doing things that are, on net, negative. Every dollar earned by the financial industry in the 2000s was lost and then more in the financial collapse: real damage to real productive capacity was done. We were earning more money, GDP was increasing, and (at least) houses were getting built, but the cost was offshoring and outsourcing of jobs and decreased actual wellbeing (it is in the 2000s that American height, for example, began to decrease.)
Money is not the economy, and increases in money do not necessarily mean the economy is getting better or even bigger, let alone actually increasing the welfare of the population.
Now increases in money SHOULD reflect increases in the welfare of the people, or at least in the size of the economy. Money should have an organic relationship to the economy. But for it to do so we must want it to.
Take the classic post-war economy (pre 70s.) You can borrow money if you have a house or a business. The house is valuable not so much because you can live in it, but because living in it means you are close to a job. It is the job that allows you to afford the house, and if you lose the job, the house still has value because there are other jobs nearby for someone else. If you do not believe this, I invite you to look at what happened to housing prices in Detroit when the auto industry left that city.
The house is secondary, though, the jobs come first. A farm has value because you can grow food and sell it, a business has value because it makes money. All of these things, presumably, produce goods or services that people want or need, and if you no longer want to run your farm or business, someone else can. A loan just allows you to take some of the future value of what you own, and use it today.
Economic financialization seems like an extension of this system. If you have a money flow of any type, why not borrow against it? Why not borrow against its appreciation? Why not then sell those money flows for money today? There are three problems: the first is pyramiding. You borrow against a money flow, then you use leverage and buy other money flows and then you leverage on them, and soon the underlying asset is a tiny fraction of the money you have. (No leverage on loaned money is thus the first principle of avoiding problems, loaned money is already leverage.)
The second problem is printing money with no underlying asset at all. When the Fed is creating 82 billion out of midair every month, half of which is spent on treasuries, there is no organic relation to the underlying economy.
The third is that some people get to borrow money for much less than other people. Banks get prime (or less). Large investors get close to prime, ordinary people get Prime ++, if they can get less than 20% on a credit card. This is justified by “risk”, but the risk is mostly that the person doesn’t have access to essentially free (prime rate) money. It also distorts the economy, because it favors financial companies since the interest rate is the cost of money, and the cost of money is a cost of business, which means financial operations are cheap even before you get to the fact that financial operations also have access to the highest amounts of leverage.
The problem here is that finance creates NOTHING of worth itself. It exists (or should exist rather) only to facilitate creating goods and services with actual value: food, housing, entertainment, medicine, art, philosophy and so on. Those goods and services, or rather the people, equipment and relationships that produced them, are the economy. Finance’s purpose is only to help allocate money between those activities, and it is only one mechanism of allocation. The market will not allocate money properly to many goods because it undervalues the future (so, for example, education, especially in the humanities and basic science), cannot account for externalities not embedded in the valuation system (that you are getting sick from my pollution is not the market’s problem), and cannot value anything that is not denominated in cold hard cash (like love, or friendship or a sunny day free of smog or the health of someone who doesn’t make money.)
Any society which makes all or most of its decisions about how to allocate money through the market mechanism will be hell on earth and will devalue those things most important to human happiness and meaning. It is not an accident that the depression rate in the US has increased by an order of magnitude in the last hundred years.
If you give outsize money returns to finance then, it drives out actual productive investment in the real economy. If you make the market your primary method of allocating funds, it doesn’t allocate resources to the future or to intangibles and ignores externalities which are key both to long term growth and avoiding negative outcomes (like your kid having cancer, or your spouse dying of cancer, or your sibling having a debilitating case of depression.)
But the problem is worse than this. Money, as my friend Stirling Newberry has noted, is permission: it is the right to decide what other people do with their time. Money lets you buy up people who spend all day lobbying government, it lets you create political movements, it lets you buy up think tanks and universities, it lets you create your own mercenary army. If you are throwing off more money than other industries, it lets you take over those industries. It lets you buy government, and thus control the rules.
If some group, in an economy, has a consistently higher rate of return than other groups over a long period of time, they WILL become dominant in that society absent a reaction by violent men. Period. Because they can use that money to decide what other people do. This is true not just of finance, it is true of any group of people controlling a bottleneck resource (see: oil, among others).
You can solve this one of two ways: you can make sure no one gets these consistent outsize returns in the first place (remember, basic economics, if an industry is making more than average profits, they are not in a competitive market, there is an inefficiency). Or you can just take their excess profits away from them.
IF you choose not to do so, because they have bought the system and created an ideology that says it is unfair to take money away from people who are given a systemic advantage by being allowed to create money from thin air and/or borrow it at prime when no one else can; or that the people allowed to control oil production should be allowed to keep all its benefits because they created the oil, or some such, then those people WILL come to control your society and they will create it in their image.
I will discuss at a later day happiness and meaning (and even eudomania), which should be the sane goal of any political economy. I will discuss how to design an economy which works for everyone. But the first thing to realize is that you must want that, and you must believe it is Just that your society be run that way.
If you do not believe that it is moral and right and just to tax people who have a structural advantage in your economy (and that structural advantage can and will exist if you remove the State entirely), if you do not believe you are allowed to redistribute, if you do not understand what the economy is for (creating the good life), if you do not believe in not allowing concentrations of private power based on position, then you will not keep whatever prosperity and good life you have, because those who win the game (and someone always will) will buy up the game and change the rules to ensure their continued wealth and power. They will do so in a way that will cost you your liberty, your health and your prosperity.
There will always be winners and we don’t want to change that. Let them win, let them enjoy winning in their time, but do not allow them to buy the system, to destroy the actual productive capacity of the system, or to try and make money the sole determinant of how decisions are made. Doing so, letting market mechanisms work until they don’t, then continuing to use them anyway: refusing to enforce competitive markets and keep markets doing what they do well and only what they do well, is why we had a financial collapse, why we’re in a depression, and why we have a catastrophic climate change episode coming our way which will kill a billion people or more. It is why we are seeing a long term decline in happiness in market democracies, why we have soaring rates of depression and chronic disease, rising chronic unemployment, and a host of other social ills.
An economy exists to fill the needs of the people in it, material and non-material. It has no other purpose.
(This is a comment elevated from my post on why Democrats and Obama don’t do what progressives want. It is written by Jerome Armstrong, not by me. Jerome was the founder of MyDD (Kos’s Blogfather) and co-author of Crashing the Gates, among other things- Ian)
by Jerome Armstrong
In the fall of 2002, I was busy putting together about a 10-page memo for Joe Trippi on how Howard Dean could win the upcoming Presidential campaign. And it had revolution written throughout. Fundraising, organizing, communicating, the whole thing. In that document was laid out the fifty state organizing campaign, how blogs would build the movement around Dean, and how small dollar online donors could become bigger than the John Kerry’s decades-long amassed donor mailing list. Nothing short of revolutionary. If you’ve read Trippi’s book, you’ll see that he gained insight into applicable tactics from the rip roaring 90′s Raging Bull financial commenting site. I was also on those boards (for better or worse– or much worse), so we were both of similar mind when Joe got the opportunity to take over managing the campaign, on the possibilities. We also saw what McCain did after New Hampshire, with online fundraising, in 2000. It was quite fantastic. Heady days. But the point is that it was all revolutionary for the campaign, especially so being the primary for Democratic President. The electricity of the netroots movement emerged right alongside Howard Dean message that was anti-Bush, anti-war, and full-bore partisanship.
And if you experienced that ’03 campaign, you gained insight into those revolutionary tactics. If you did not, then they didn’t make up what you brought to your next campaign. And the experience didn’t need to be one of being on the winning side either. I have to credit a book that Nate Wilcox had me read for understanding this, by my looking at what happened with TV and how it changed political campaigning, by Ray Strothers called “Falling Up: How a Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting”.
So, in 2003, we on Dean’s campaign had a big advantage on the rest of the campaigns. Dean, for the most part, knew the message to use. The campaign knew exactly what tools to use to grow. None of the other campaigns (Gephardt, Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman) could figure the internet part out (save Clark’s nascent campaign).
Howard Dean’s Strategy
As we entered the Spring of 2003, the Dean campaign staff gathered together with early bundlers for a strategic retreat in Vermont at the Trapp family lodge. Trippi had always worked on separate presidential campaigns against Paul Maslin. So, wanting to work together, he had brought him on as Dean’s pollster. They put together a campaign strategy that made sense. In short, rely on the internet-based strategy to grow the campaign up to the caucuses and primaries. Dean would lose to Gephardt in Iowa, placing second. Then, followed by Dean winning first in New Hampshire, he’d thereafter steamroll to the nomination. This plan went awry by the Fall though, when public polls came out showing Dean way ahead in Iowa too. Maslin tried to temper Dean’s expectations, but Dean decided a sweep was a must, and the whole campaign strategy was changed. Iowa all of a sudden meant everything.
Dean For America
Second, also from that March 2003 Trapp family lodge meeting. Trippi, Markos, Zephyr, Matt Gross and a few others and myself sat out on the front lawn early into the next morning, drinking and talking about what we were in the middle of transpiring. Finally, around 2 am, the staff comes to shut us up for the night, as the other guests are complaining. As we are ending and walking in, I ask Trippi what’s going to happen when it looks like Dean might win. At the point, it was still unfathomable to most, but I could tell it wasn’t a new thought to him, but instead something he’d been mulling quite a bit, and he replied: “the moment when the insurgent becomes the frontrunner is the moment when he either becomes the establishment or…” and just looks at me, like he was waiting for me to answer, but his face gives me no clue as to how to answer. My thought is that, ‘well yea, the insurgent throws down the revolution,’ but that answer didn’t phase the ‘what happens next’ look on Trippi’s face.
Fast forward about 6 months, I get onto the campaign elevator in the morning, arriving late as usual, same time as Trippi and his wife Kathy Lash. She turns to me and says, “Dean is going to be on next week’s cover of Time and Newsweek.” My first thought was to get them both signed by Dean, which I did later, but I turned to Joe and said to his nodding up, “I guess this is that moment”.
Well, what came next first is that Dean tried to become the establishment candidate. By November and December 2003, the formal endorsements. First Labor groups, then Al Gore & Bill Bradley, were rolled out. Tom Harkin in Iowa. Dean’s poll numbers grew higher. The fundraising numbers went through the roof, but a funny thing was happening with grassroots internet support. It was coming to a standstill around 600,000. I was running all of the online advertising for the campaign, so I firsthand saw the efficacy and resulting metrics for every ad we put out there. We were growing in fundraising, but the movement wasn’t getting bigger. It got so bad, that Nicco Mele had to fudge up the email signup numbers that were public on the website some days (due no doubt in part to Clark’s campaign which I’ll mention below), and we had to figure out techniques to do more than juice them going higher.
What Happens Next read more…
By Jerome Armstrong
I want to say something about the role of a blogger, just to try and frame the expectations and limitations inherently in place. The blogger is like that first follower in the famous Derek Sivers video, that is: “the first follower is the person that transforms the lone dancing guy into someone leading a movement.” So, when I saw Howard Dean dancing solo among the Democrats, at a Democratic Party gathering up in Seattle in June 2002, I started blogging, ‘hey there’s a guy dancing here’ I’m dancing now too, and so on, and a movement started…
This is the arena of politics, the politicians are the ones that have to be the crazy lone dancer for there to be bloggers to stand up and dance along. That’s their role. So its not a correct frame to say “FDL didn’t go down with the ship against ACA” in spring ’10, when already, the the only ones that came forward to dance, Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich, both stopped, and became supporters. No dance, nothing to follow; the music has stopped.
As for the modern day (2001-2013) Democratic Party’s politicians. They’ll dance quite a jig during the campaign. When in power, they’ll dance on an populist issue here or there, usually when it’s not likely to have much a chance of passing. Mostly though, they just look busy while holding up the wall.
And it’s not about ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ but about the politicians moment on the stage. When a leader starts dancing, the early followers jump in, and a movement starts. If the leader stops dancing, that’s when a movement dies. If, however, even in losing, they kept on dancing, that’s a movement that will live another day.
This is something we see play out over and over on both sides of the aisles, among the populist progressives and libertarians, usually against the old guard. A dance starts, they laugh first, then get pissed, start fighting, charge in using whatever it takes, claim ownership of the floor, and shut down the dancer.
(This a comment elevated from my post on the failure of the why progressives don’t get much of what they want from politicians. It is written by Jerome Armstrong, not by me. Jerome was the founder of MyDD (Kos’s Blogfather) and co-author of Crashing the Gates, among other things- Ian)
Let us talk, today, about violence, resistance and revolution. It has been observed that armed populations often seem to be more free, equally it has been observed that armed populations live in a state of misery and anarchy, as in most failed states, where virtually everyone is armed.
An armed population, alone, means little. For all of the talk about how important it is to have Americans armed so they can “resist tyranny”, the fact that America is awash in guns has done nothing significant to stop the erosion of civil liberties and the rise of plutocracy. Indeed many of those screaming loudest for policies which ensure their own poverty, the power of the rich, and thus the decline of effective democracy are the most heavily armed.
Guns alone mean little.
America’s founding fathers wanted Americans to have guns and be in well regulated militias. In this, as in many things, they were wise. A militia, properly oriented towards the community it serves, is an organized body of citizens who have military training and are used to fighting as a group. They have ties to the community, and there is not more than one militia per community, they also have ties to whatever local government exists. If enough of these militias decide, as groups, to resist the government, they can do so.
Individual violence is not a threat to the state. The threat of assassination can act as a brake on the activities of politicians (though I, of course, would never suggest it). It is notable that the concrete barricades and ludicrous overprotection of DC politicians, especially the President, picks up exactly as plutocracy gets underway. Say what you will about Nixon: he went to meet protesters, at night, with a single aide and no bodyguards. He was not afraid of his own citizens, even those who disagreed with his policies. It is unimaginable that Clinton, Bush or Obama would do such a thing.
To some extent the right wing gets some of what they want because they are armed, and every once in a while their crazies “go off”. Rhetoric justifying violence is regularly issued by the right wing, and it works: when a political attack occurs, it’s almost always against someone perceived as a left winger. The days when there was any chance of being beaten up by a “union thug” as a pol are long gone, let alone having a genuine anarchist blow up your building, but you can still be shot in the head by a right winger.
Moreover people have simply not understood the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Mexico. The modern toolkit of violence is amazing at area denial. If the US government starts losing control of chunks of the US, what it will look like is Mexico or Iraq: places where they can’t go without police cars or tanks blowing up, sporadic attacks by people who fade away. Terror against the police and their families. It will not be some great glorious slugging match between armies, because anyone stupid enough to fight the US that way will lose.
The problem with modern insurgency technologies, however, is that you can’t protect anything. So you can deny the writ of the state, you can create places where they can only go in force, you can make it so they control the ground their boots are on and nothing more, but you can’t create a sub-state, because they will find it and destroy it: any facilities you build or staff they’ll bomb; any public leadership they’ll assassinate and they’ll kill as much of the secret leadership as they can.
Modern states, and especially the US state, after Iraq and Afghanistan, are very aware of this. This is one of the main reasons for the rabid scramble to surveil everything: not just online, but offline. Put cameras, drones, satellites, listening devices (many cameras now eavesdrop) everywhere they can, add in recognition software and behaviour algos, and scoop everything up. The first sweep is algos, looking for behaviour that seems consistent with being a threat or even that is just unusual (Fred’s not doing what he usually does, let’s flag that.)
With this surveillance, the hope is to be able to stay on top the new technology of violence and area denial: we know where you go physically, online, what you buy, who your friends and family are. We know you, we can predict you, and if you get out of hand we know where to find you so we can grab you or kill you.
Historically the more the State needs its citizens to fight, the more power they have. You get universal male suffrage, generally, when you have the draft, you get selective male suffrage when part of the population fights and is required to fight (is not replaceable. You can replace US soldiers, Greek hoplites came from a class which could not be replaced with someone else.)
Even so human soldiers are a clear point of failure. They may not shoot their fellow citizens, and the more of them you have, the more likely it is they won’t shoot. Thus automated warfare: not just aerial drones, but ground robots, which are no more than a couple decades out. It’s a lot easier to kill someone from remote, when you don’t smell what humans smell like when their guts are ripped open, when you can turn off the sound on the screams.
If there is violence against the state, it will look Iraq or Afghanistan, not like the American Revolution. Add in other new techs like 3D printing, and you have an insurgency where virtually anyone with a minimum of tech skills and a few parts can make weapons. Some household chemicals which can’t be banned, and you have bombs. Drones will not, ultimately, be weapons of the strong, either, but weapons of the weak: they are not hard to make and if technically savvy people get motivated, they will be more than able to make their own air and ground drones.
The… issue, here, is the inability hold ground and protect infrastructure. What happens in this type of war is that it is difficult to land a knockout punch. So the country becomes a place where you have low (or high) grade terror, places where no one can go, and constant atrocities on both side as they try and destroy the will of the other side to resist, punish their enemies and cow the local population into obedience.
An armed population gives ruling class pause when it is not fully under their control and is organized by local elites not fully under the control of the central elites. But if those local elites go too wrong, you get armed militias imposing local shakedowns at best, tyranny at worst (see: Klu Klux Clan.) It gives more pause when they need that armed population to fight external foes who are actually an existential threat (Islam, again, is not an existential threat to the US.) It gives them pause when they fear assassination and need to maintain close contact with the population and not hide behind guards and walls all the time.
One must also recognize that despite its apparent overwhelming power, the US military is absolutely horrible at anti-insurgency. Take a map of Afghanistan or Iraq and plunk it down on a map of the continental USA.
The US is… big, very, very big. If the US military could not crush insurgencies in Iraq or Afghanistan, if one ever gets seriously underway here, why do you think it could in America? Hmmm?
Thus, again, blanket surveillance and remote or (ultimately) automated killing machines.
If anyone wants to defeat a first world State, on its own ground, they will either need the mass active (not passive) support of the population, before the killing machines become active, or they will need to rethink, or more likely, adaptively learn, how to defeat the surveillance state. The model for this, of course, is Hezbollah, who runs a secret army and in certain respects, almost a secret state. You must have your own ways of communicating which cannot be tapped. You must know how to avoid the surveillance of the enemy, or take it out. You must know how to move without triggering the algorithims, and you must figure out some way to protect the organs of your nascent state, whatever they are, from destruction.
It may come to this, but we should hope it doesn’t, because civilization will be laid waste by it. The other route is the failure of ideology. The USSR did not fall in battle, it fell when the decision was made not to use the troops, by men who did no longer believed enough in the USSR to kill or die for it. A vast ennui had swept the USSR, they simply no longer believed in their form of communism. Done.
One problem with that is that it happens when it happens, and it may not happen for a long time: plutocrats don’t need any grand belief in anything more than money and passing it on to their heirs, and the people who fight for them don’t need to believe in much more than money either. Absent a belief to unify them against the ruling class, they’ll kill for their lords and masters.
The second problem was also displayed in Russia: if you don’t have an ideology to replace the old one that’s better than the old one, your society can go downhill fast. Russians were vastly worse off after communism than during communism. By some metrics they still are. America failing and accepting, say, Chinese state capitalism might not be a good thing.
The best way of overthrowing a state is to undermine belief in it and replace that belief with belief in something new and something better. Do those things, and while some violence may be necessary, you will find when push comes to shove that the state is rotten and can hardly fight, because those running it do not believe in it and those fighting against it are fighting for something not just against something.
Absent powerful external enemies, belief is what makes states, and it what destroys them, and even in cases where there are external enemies, great nations tend to rot from within before falling to outside foes, if they do not renew themselves first.
Politicians do most things because someone wants them done who can hold them accountable if they don’t do it. That includes bad things, and good things. Anyone who doesn’t understand this reality doesn’t understand even the most basic part of politics.
In 2008 Clinton reached out to the Netroots, and felt the Netroots (we, not me, I had almost no contact with the campaign) mattered enough to at least listen to. Obama did not.
You dances with the ones who brought you, as Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney once said, Obama won by bypassing the Netroots and lying to Progressives and Liberals: he won without us, he owed us nothing once elected.
The movement, such as it was, was bypassed and lost power. As a result, for example, we could not improve Dodd-Frank, insist on more help for homeowners (which I pushed hard for), improve the shitty stimulus bill, or get any of a number of other liberal or progressive priorities pushed.
Note that gays were originally ignored by Obama as well. What did they do? They got in Obama’s face personally, heckling him and they organized a very effective donor boycott. As a result, they got much (but not all) of what they wanted from him.
Holding someone accountable means “inflicting pain”. If they don’t do what you want, you must be able to do something to them they don’t like (heckling), or take away something they want (money).
Like FDL or not, the last serious attempt by left-wingers other than gays to hold Obama accountable was when they refused to go along with the Affordable Care Act if it didn’t include a public option. FDL said “if this bill has no public option, we won’t support it.” When it didn’t, they didn’t. You may think that’s not a good red-line, but they had a red line. Of course FDL, virtually alone, did not have the juice: they could not inflict enough pain or take away enough funding or create enough bad publicity for Obama to care, especially when powerful interests (read: insurance companies), didn’t want a public option. (For doing so, FDL was attacked by all the usual suspects on “left-wing” blogs and labelled firebaggers.)
Political power is constituted of getting people elected, getting people unelected and being able to reward or punish people for doing or not doing what you want. If you can’t do any of those things, you have no power.
This is realpolitik.
This will be another brief post. Bailing out banks, brokerages and so on in the way it was done had the following effects:
1) Fewer, larger financial institutions. Too bigger to fail.
2) Rewarding people for outright fraud and insane risk taking. Remember, they kept their bonuses and salaries, they are rich, even if they belong to one of the few companies that went under.
3) A huge overhang of bad debts which has to be worked off.
4) An understanding that financial profits are still the way, you, personally get rich.
5) Making the rich, richer (yes, they are richer now)
The reason the economy has not recovered and will not recover for at least a generation is because of the overhang of bad debt, the glorification of financial “profits” (they aren’t), the failure to de-financialize the economy and the confirmed control of government by the rich.
In other words the bailout caused the sucky “recovery”, or, if we are to be honest, the current long Depression.
The standard argument is “we had to do something”. Yes and no.
1) We could have done something else, like nationalizing the banks, making bondhlders and shareholders eat their losses, taking what remains and putting it in bad banks, then breaking the banks up and re-privatizing them.
2) Actually, if we’d just let them go under per the law, with the FDIC taking them over, things would have been worse initially, but there would have been an actual, robust recovery when it occurred. By now you’d be better off. And the shock could have been cushioned with generous EI, letting people stay in houses and so on.
TARP, though it actually wasn’t the key bailout (those were done mostly through the Fed) is when Obama said “I am going to keep the same people who caused this mess in power in the financial system, make sure they don’t lose their money, and that’s just too bad for everyone else.” When he confirmed that Bernanke was to stay on, he confirmed that he was, essentially, ok with what had happened.
The bailout decision did not “save the world” instead it doomed a good chunk of the world to twenty years of a shitty economy, minimum. Forget the unemployment rate, the percentage of Americans employed hasn’t recovered, and won’t, and that’s before we talk about Europe.
This is the first of Obama’s legacies.
(This post is written by Pachacutec, not by me. Pachacutec was a long time blogger at FireDogLake, and deeply involved in Netroots Strategy through 2009. – Ian)
I read with interest my old friend Ian’s take on the failure of the progressive blogosphere, or “netroots,” from its beginnings in the early 2000’s until now. Ian and I had a little exchange about it on twitter, and he invited me to blog my take. Bottom line: I think Ian gets it partly right, but oversimplifies what happened.
Ian thinks the problem was essentially a moral failure:
So progressives have no power, because they have no principles: they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.
He also thinks progressives are more tribal than Tea Party conservatives are:
Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology. They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy. Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.
The Tea Party, say what you will about them, gets a great deal of obeisance from Republicans for one simple reason: they will primary you if they don’t like how you’ve been voting, and they’ll probably win that primary. They are feared.
I don’t want to get distracted by this last point, but let me just state my opinion that Tea Party, liberals, and anyone else you can name are all tribal as hell, and just as tribal as each other. What made the Tea Party different in electoral effectiveness was Koch brothers’ money. There were moral failures in the netroots, most spectacularly in the ways that various people responded to scarcity, the dearth of any money to be made and food to be bought out of full time activist liberal blogging. But that’s not the big reason for progressive bloggers inability to translate online passion into raw political power.
My role in the netroots was part activist blogger and partly as a guy trying to find a way to get sustainable funds into progressive blogs. That meant I purchased and paid close attention to metrics of progressive blog audience demographics. One reason we didn’t become a destabilizing political force, able to shape policy and elect politicians, was because we just lacked the demographic reach to do it. We thought (hoped) we could be a populist wave for change. Turns out we were just a current.
Progressive blog audiences mostly reached more educated white boomers, and, with some exceptions, more men than women. Progressive blog audiences geographically reached all over the US, but their very dispersion made it difficult to get anything going on the ground where people of like mind could coordinate together. That limited audience reach and growth that could translate into coalition building and political power.
It’s true, as Ian hints, that our white boomer audiences were still mostly people who believed in institutions. They grew up that way. They were collectively shocked at the direction of the country and the corruption of media and government in the Bush years, but they were not radicals. They still believed in these institutions. Most wanted reform, not fundamental systemic change. They still listened to a lot of NPR.
This is what Ian is getting at in his argument, though I don’t see this so much as a moral failure as it is a lack of educated boomer tribal experience, a function of cohort. These boomers believed in the American Dream, but the next generation coming up is having a very different experience in its formative years. I see this as more of a systems phenomenon, related to how generations learn and form their assumptions, than as a collective moral failing.
Some bloggers tried to get around their weakness in organizing people on the ground by allying with unions, whose whole infrastructure of politics was about people taking collective action locally. But it was an uneasy alliance for tribal reasons: blog audiences were not working class and were far less diverse than the membership of service employee unions.
Without funds to amplify or rapidly escalate their local reach, the way the Tea Party has had, the netroots got bypassed by the fundraising and organizing machine of Obama campaign, which tapped the rising demographic wave ready to be plucked on the center-left: young people, women and people of color.
The 2008 primary wars were the worst time for progressive blogging, because the ugliest sides of latent liberal tribalism between the Clinton camp and the Obama camp were in full bloom. Obama held the netroots in contempt and allied with establishment forces and hedge fund money to suck all the organizing life out of the netroots. That’s what constitutes the “failure” Ian describes, but with hindsight, I don’t think there was any way we could have overcome all of these systemic obstacles. We lacked money, we were too narrow in our reach, too unorganized, and as a result, we could not overcome establishment efforts to beat us back.
We did have a partial victory with Lamont over Lieberman, where we succeeded in creating a local presence. However, as Ian points out, Lieberman won as an Independent. We have, in part, both the Clintons and Obama to thank for this. As validators, they helped Lieberman. Obama travelled right through Connecticut during the campaign and avoided an appearance with the Democratic nominee, Ned Lamont, reneging on a non-public promise. Lieberman had been his mentor in the Senate. None of this was an accident. Bill Clinton talked up Lieberman, in spite of the fact that Holy Joe made much of his name pontificating about Bill’s penis.
Still, the Lamont campaign showed the establishment that the netroots really had to be dealt with. Obama performed the hit, in what we have come to know as his signature Quiet American style. There were no drones involved, unless you want to use the word to describe paid and unpaid tribal attack hacks, rather than flying death machines. Either way, Obama never likes to leave fingerprints or get his hands visibly dirty.
What remains of the netroots is not a movement in itself but a continuing current. Some people came through this very clarifying period for one’s character scarred but with their integrity intact. Duncan (Atrios) and Digby still document the atrocities. Howie Klein fights the good fight for grass roots candidates and against the DCCC. Joe Sudbay works persistently and effectively for gay equality and disenfranchised immigrants. Marcy’s persistent OCD and ability to connect the dots influences the influencers and the debate on the NSA. Ian shakes his fist at us, challenges us and reminds us of things we try not to think about because we just want to get through our day. Even Tom Matzzie, who has left politics, pops up from his embedded perch to fuck with Michael Hayden. There are others as well, I’m just citing examples to make my point.
Collectively, we failed at our most lofty ambitions, though we didn’t fail at everything. But with climate change and the time it will take for a possibly more radicalized youth cohort to effect more radical economic and social change, it may all be too late. Then again, it took decades between God and Man at Yale and Ted Cruz. There is something to be said for just finding a way to hang around and keep the narrative alive. It’s about all we can still do, and below the level of institutions, there are signs the culture may be catching up.