The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: December 2018 Page 1 of 2

Merry Chistmas

I hope you are having a good one. It’s been a long year for me, and I suspect, for many of you. Let this be a good day for us, if we can.

Is Trump Right to Shutdown the Government over His Wall?

Yeah, I think he is.

Bear with me, I think the wall is stupid and mean. There aren’t actually a ton of emigrants coming any more, and there haven’t been since the early 00’s. It’s not a real crisis. (It never really was.)

And the anti-immigrant movement is based on cruelty. It was based on cruelty under Obama and Bush as well. A lot of outrages that came to light in the early Trump reign were actually things that happened under Obama. That said, Trump has, as with so many things, made it worse.

But Trump campaigned on the wall. If he had a main any campaign promise at all, it was to build the wall.

People voted for him, elected him, expecting him to build the wall.

People should, I believe, get what they vote for. At the least they should be able to expect the people they voted for to fight for whatever they promised.

Trump is doing that, and I would go so far as to say he should do it.

Other politicians, who promised to oppose him, should do so, though I fear the hypocrisy meter is pretty high on both Republicans and Democrats on this issue: Many who oppose him now have voted for border walls in the past, there’s plenty of already existing wall, etc.

Is all this worth shutting the government down over? Not to me, not to most of my readers, I’m sure.

But it was Trump’s main promise, and he should fight for it.

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Rising and Falling


In several recent threads on this blog, we discussed (i.e., argued passionately about) the current goings on in Europe (Brexit, Greece, Italy, etc.) as signs of the impending decay and demise of the European project. I used to share this view to some extent, because I too am sometimes in the grip of a moral fallacy that haunts left-wing discourse: that things that are good, work, and things that aren’t good, don’t work. I actually think that in the bigger picture, this is true, but only in the largest temporal and spatial frames. In the medium term, lots of things that are good, are not stable enough in context to work (as in, be sustained for more than a short period of time), and lots of things that are not good, are nevertheless stable enough to last decades and even centuries.

Predicting whether, when, and how some particular set of events will cause large institutions to rise or fall cannot be done lightly or easily, and such predictions, when done in the moment, are more likely wrong than right. You should expect unexpected things to occur; there are too many variables. Some people are better at it than others, but you should take even the best track records with a grain of salt. Even two to three years ago, I would have predicted that the build-up of “bad karma” in the European system would have caused the EU to break apart by now. Even a few months ago, the rise of Euroskeptic populists in some countries suggested to me that the situation is increasingly desperate for European unity. However, over that time, and somewhat unexpectedly to me I must admit, it appears that some sort of inflection point has been reached.

The EU, as it stands now, was designed by a set of people that had different attitudes and goals over time. Therefore, it is a mixed bag, when it comes to good, not good, works, doesn’t work. A good chunk of its institutions were designed at around the peak of the neoliberal revolt against state management of the economy. In the EU, this took its expression in an approach to the economy that militated against state attempts to protect or bolster industrial employment in both public and private sectors. Because Europe does not suffer so much from the “moralized” version of libertarianism from which the US suffers (essentially, that your bank account is a virtual extension of your physical body), there is a stronger commercial regulatory apparatus developed even in the neoliberal era than what other developed “capitalist” countries tend to have. The neoliberal bits, especially the most recent ones like the Eurozone, have increasingly showed themselves to be not good and not working.

But this cannot be taken out of the context of the whole. It’s increasingly clear to me that Europe is still not that far off from the overall intended trajectory of the two generations of designers of European convergence. It is absolutely true that those who built the system had, for a number of different reasons, a deep suspicion of the public and popular sovereignty, even while they were also against outright dictatorship. I generally consider this to be overall not good and probably won’t work in the long run. (But I must note that the designers of the EU also recognized that they might need to legitimize popular sovereignty at a European level and built in provisions for systems to implement it.) However, they believed both in the necessity of European unity (in the modern world, a disunited Europe is structurally, deeply vulnerable), and the difficulty in getting a multilingual, multicultural subcontinent of fallen empires to accept the necessity of unification, so they constructed a system of what are effectively one-way traps to ensure that the cost of departure is always greater than the cost of endurance, even when the system in some matters doesn’t work. The goal is therefore for this endurance to eventually result in a crisis whose only positive-sum resolution is the Europeanization of authority.

With Italy’s effective capitulation to the Commission, and yes, with Greece’s previous compliance, and yes again, with a Brexit that is already providing the necessary object lessons, it appears that the crisis-and-trap strategy is still operating, or rather, it cannot be said to have failed at this point in time. That is, it remains that case that the strategy of making a series of systems that don’t work is working.

Considering that this game of deliberate historical manipulation has real human costs and indeed a known death toll in itself, one may well choose to designate it as not good. But, the evidence is that it still works.

So what would the decline of the European project actually look like?  Well, there are, of course, phenomena that are hard to predict directly, like, sudden environmental cataclysms. If I were forced to make a prediction, however, the political coming-apart would probably have to look like one of the following options:

  1. A situation comes to pass where it is immediately more materially beneficial to leave than to stay (this has not yet happened).
  2. One or more countries decide to leave a major institution/treaty despite the costs, and they do economically better in the relatively short run after departure. (Brexit under the Tories is not likely to be an example of this.)
  3. A consensus develops in several countries that long-term economic suffering is more desirable than staying in the EU, even if that suffering is greater than what they might have experienced inside the EU, and they sustain this consensus even after feeling that suffering.

All of this may lead you to consider projects like the European unification, designed explicitly around creating consequences that override popular will, to be not good. I have given you at least three possibilities for it to not work. So I would say, as before, that it is a mixed bag.

Political theodicy is dead. Long live political theodicy.

Trump the Peacemaker?

So, Trump recently said the US would be withdrawing from Syria. Now, we have news that Trump has ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for leaving Afghanistan.

During the 2016 election, I refused to endorse either candidate; I considered Clinton a war-mongerer, with a non-zero chance of starting a war with Russia over Syria. Trump, was, of course, beyond the pale in so many ways.

However, as I told an American friend, by 2016 I was done prioritizing American lives and well-being over those of other nationalities. Before then, I had, slightly, because I believed that if the US could be turned around, as the hegemonic power, that would help everyone else.

But by 2016 it was clear that the US was basically hopeless. Everyone’s blood is the same color, everyone suffers the same. Bad things happening domestically in the US do not trump American mass-murder and terrible policy to other nations.

Now I don’t know if Trump will actually withdraw from Syria or Afghanistan; just as I don’t know how real the North Korean negotiations will turn out to be. (I just want a peace treaty out of that mess.)

But Trump has a chance to come out of this looking a lot better than Obama. All he has to do is stop a couple wars, and not start a war.

Something Obama (Libya) was unable to do.

Non-American lives matter.

Oh, and withdrawing will save some American lives, too, though a trivial number compared to how many foreigners’ lives it will save.

Plus it will correct a monumental geopolitical error. Bin Laden’s entire plan was to get US boots on the ground, prove the US military could be be beaten, and bleed the US dry. Americans, in their hubris, walked right into his trap.

Maybe time to step out of it.

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.



Italy has essentially “caved” on its threat to run a high budget deficit and confront the managers of the Eurozone.

The Italian government will trim its deficit target for next year in its latest proposal that seeks to avoid European Union sanctions for violating the bloc’s budget rules, the Ansa news agency reported.

“We have reached agreement on everything,” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said after a lengthy budget meeting in Rome Sunday night. The budget would be “within limits that should please the EU.”

In a previous Brexit thread, the idea that Italy was about to confront and maybe start the process of leaving the Eurozone due to the budget conflict was bruited about. I laid out the main path by which this could occur in a comment:

Right now, the main issue is Italy, and the deciding questions are:

  1. Whether the Five Star/Lega Nord government is really going to escalate the budgetary conflict with the Commission.
  2. Whether, in doing so, they will force the Commission to back down.
  3. Otherwise, whether the resulting conflict will cause them to back down.
  4. If they don’t back down, whether the Greece-like economic consequences will cause them to lose popularity.

The path to an EU breakup is charted with: (1) yes; (2) no; (3) no, and; (4) no. So far we are getting (1), maybe, and (2) no.

Italy has already departed this path at step (1), and with a non-buffoon “clever” right-wing agitator in the driver’s seat like Matteo Salvini.

The Rule of Alienation and Stability

One of my favourite sights is people complaining that marginalized people don’t understand that their support for Bad Politician-X results in fucking themselves.

“Sure,” runs the line, “their lives suck now. But they’ll suck even worse if this guy gets into power.”

This is often (but not always) true. It is also irrelevant.

The rule is simple: Alienated people are always targets for alternative political movements. Sometimes those movements are good, sometimes bad. But if you don’t want this to happen, your society has to give alienated people genuine expectations of a better future when they play within the system.

When a huge number of people, a plurality, feel that they have little hope for a better future, and a realistic expectation for a worse future, they are willing to roll the dice, even if the odds are bad. After all, they already know that the current world is shitty and the future is worse.

It does not matter if this seems irrational on cost/benefit scales; what matters is the chance, rather than what they see as a certainty.

Now, understand always, that sometimes what is offered IS better. FDR was better. So was Huey Long. Corbyn in Britain will be better than the status quo. (This is why the voting gap for youngsters disappeared for him. Young people vote when they are offered what they need.)

Sometimes it is worse, if not in the short run, then in the long run. Or, if not for you, then for other people in your society (see Hitler and Mussolini for cases of both).

People who love the status quo, who want it to continue, have to make it work for most people. If their policies, no matter how reasonable they seem to the beneficiaries of the current system, whatever it is (Ancien Regime France, for example) plunge a plurality into despair, that plurality will always be ripe for turning on the system.

It really is that simple? Love your system? Okay. Make it work for almost everyone. In excess of 90 percent. Not because you are moral or ethical, most of you probably aren’t, but out of sheer self-interest.

If you don’t, don’t whine when those you left behind decide to take almost any chance to change things.

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.


Meanwhile in Hungary


The Hungarian government, led by Victor Orbán, the great defender of the worker from the hordes of cheap labour and cultural contamination knocking on Hungary’s doors, has decided to pass a law that:

  • Drastically raises mandatory overtime for 250 to 400 hours.
  • Allows employers to bypass union negotiations and make agreements with individual workers.
  • Allows employers to pay out overtime over three years, rather than one.

The combined changes make it possible for employers to make Hungarian workers work a six-day week rather than a five-day week.

Orbán is widely considered the leading figure of the “nationalist international,” promoting “family values” that will protect ordinary working people against the social and economic dilution brought about by liberal attitudes to culture and immigration. In reality, this type of nationalism (perhaps all types?) is not a real protection for the worker and typically presages a different set of extractive and exploitative compromises with capital.

Meritocracy? What Meritocracy?

From Saez, Chetty, et al

So, unless you think that genetic potential is that unequally distributed (and can explain eras where this chart did not apply, as in the post-WWII decades), you can pretty much forget “meritocracy.”

Meritocracy is just a way of saying, “We test for the things the middle and upper classes have the resources to prepare for their children.” And that’s before we get to the extra opportunities having wealthier parents gives one simply from network effects.

Fairness and justice are obviously big issues, but just as bad is that many of these people might contribute in a huge way, and are never given the opportunity.

Stephen Jay Gould once said:

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”

These days, McDonalds, Walmarts, and Amazon warehouses…

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.

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