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

Month: February 2021 Page 1 of 3

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 28, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Austerity and the Rise of the Nazi Party

Gregori Galofré-Vilà, Christopher M. Meissner, Martin McKee, and
David Stuckler
Economic History Association, published online by Cambridge University Press, 11 January 2021

We study the link between fiscal austerity and Nazi electoral success. Voting data from a thousand districts and a hundred cities for four elections between 1930 and 1933 show that areas more affected by austerity (spending cuts and tax increases) had relatively higher vote shares for the Nazi Party. We also find that the localities with relatively high austerity experienced relatively high suffering (measured by mortality rates) and these areas’ electorates were more likely to vote for the Nazi Party. Our findings are robust to a range of specifications including an instrumental variable strategy and a border-pair policy discontinuity design….

In this paper, we investigate the association between the austerity measures implemented by the German government between 1930 and 1932 and voters’ increased support for the Nazi Party. A growing literature studies the interactions between political preferences and fiscal policy with evidence that austerity packages are correlated with rising extremism (Alesina, Favero, and Giavazzi 2019; Bor 2017; Eichengreen 2015, 2018; Fetzer 2019; Ponticelli and Voth 2020)….

We also provide some novel quantitative estimates concerning the channels by which austerity mattered. To do so, we study the relationship between mortality rates and austerity. We find a plausible link, since where public spending on health care dropped more, mortality was higher. These places also saw a relatively large increase in Nazi support at the polls. Finally, looking at archival documents of Nazi propaganda, we document how Nazi leaders invoked austerity to attack Brüning and the Weimar Republic and how Brüning’s tax rises were seen as inefficient and unfair by the German masses.

Eviction Moratorium Deemed Unconstitutional by Federal Judge in Texas

[Naked Capitalism 2-26-21]

Business Licensing and Constitutional Liberty
Amanda Shanor [The Yale Law Journal 314 (2016)]

….the Constitution is increasingly being invoked as a trump against certain types of economic regulation. My thesis is that the central arguments currently marshaled in favor of extending stringent judicial review to business licensing regulations are untenable. These lines of reasoning have no logical endpoint. Individual rights, on this view, could trump any manner of governmental regulation in favor of free-market ordering.

These business licensing cases raise deep and pressing questions about the purpose and scope of rights and constitutional judicial review more broadly today. Underlying these debates are competing conceptions of constitutional liberty. One view, perhaps the ascendant one, reflects free-market libertarian values, whereas others understand the First and Fourteenth Amendments to reflect ideals such as democratic self-governance, anti-subordination, or civic republicanism. Resolving disputes about the constitutional status of business licensing requires that we grapple with those deeper questions.

Predatory Capitalism in the Time of COVID19

The Next US President

Back in 2010, looking at Obama’s actions in his first term, I predicted the next president after him would be a “right wing populist.” (Scare quotes in original.)

Biden appears to have given up on the $15 minimum wage. He’s cut the promised $2,000 check to 1,400 and said that he’s OK with means testing it. He opened a new “children’s detention center” (aka: kids in cages.) He doesn’t want to forgive student loans, something he could do entirely on his own authority.

Now Obama did make 8 years, since he was very smooth, but he lost seats, including c.1K state level seats, then the US got Trump in 2016. Electorally, the only wings Obama had after 08, were for himself.

In 2024, Republicans are likely to be able to say, and be telling the truth, that “Trump gave you more money than Biden.” Trump himself may run, and stand a good chance of winning. If it’s Hawley, he’ll have the Trump base and be able to accurately say he fought for $15 and larger Covid relief checks.

But Democrats, again, are refusing to make a positive case for electing them. They refuse to do big, obviously good things for the majority of Americans, so the argument will be “we’re better than /them/.”

Works, till it doesn’t. Running on fear generally loses to running on Hope. Obama ran on Hope in 2008, but Dems since then have run on “we aren’t Republicans.”

People prefer hope to fear when voting.

So my bet is that the next President of the US will be a Republican “right wing populist.”  The only possible antidote would be someone like AOC getting the nod. She has problems, but she can run a campaign of hope. However, it’s clear that the Democrats will do everything up to an including cheating to avoid a progressive as Presidential candidate, and I strongly suspect that Democratic apparatchniks, like their UK Labour compatriots, would actively work against a progressive presidential candidate, preferring a Republican win.

Hope everyone’s looking forward to Trump again, or Trump 2.0.

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Running Before The Wind

If you were born a male in the GI Generation, you had a better chance of having a good life than any American generation (true even of blacks, compared to before, must not nearly as good as whites.) You became an adult in the best economy in American, and perhaps world history. Even menial labor jobs paid enough to have a house, a wife, 2 kids, a car and a vacation, and there were always jobs available. Leave one, you’d have another in a few weeks, maybe even a few days.

This led to a deep misunderstanding of the world, and of themselves. They assumed a benign world that worked, and that they themselves were worthy of and has caused all that had actually been given to them, even though the generations that created the world the GIs, Silent and Boomers (who destroyed it) inherited, were pre-GI. It wasn’t GIs who made the decisions that created the great post-WWII prosperity, though they were, yes, the foot soldiers (the prosperity expanded beyond the US, and is still remembered fondly in much of Western Europe.)

A similar, though not identical disease afflicts modern financial elites. They think they’re geniuses, because they make a ton of money.

But they make that money because for about 40 years the Federal Reserve and government in general (and indeed, not just in the US) have created one of the largest set of financial bubbles in history. Central banks decided securities could never be allowed to down (aka. subjected to actual market forces) and stepped in with interest rate changes, loan guarantees and actually money creation, to the tune of hundreds of trillions (added all together.)

Only a moron who starts with money at the beginning of a four decade bull market that is guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the most powerful government in the world, won’t get rich. The main danger was thinking it was still an actual market: once you realized it wasn’t, you just had to hold (the one exception being the Nasdaq crash, which everyone knew as coming.)

Contrary to propaganda, for most of history in most countries, that wasn’t a good bet. If you had “held” thru 29, you wouldn’t have recovered your money for decades (remember, you can’t use the DOW as a proxy, because most of those companies went bankrupt. They never recovered their value.) In the fifties and sixties, in a stock market designed to not be fraudulent or create bubbles, there is an up and down patter and bull and bear periods.

What modern financiers lucked into (or, for the very old ones, helped create, by financing the politicians, intellectuals and bureaucrats who created neoliberalism) was simply a fraudulent market that was no longer a market in any meaningful way.

Those alive and benefiting now are almost always not even those who helped overthrow the previous order, they are simply the lucky recipients of the Federal Reserve, Treasury and other organs of government backing dump truck after dump truck of money and pouring it into the market.

At the same time, of course, infrastructure and utilities and virtually every measure of social health and welfare have turned negative and yeah, that’s related.

Financiers are just the people in the right position to benefit from government money. All they do to deserve it is continue to keep their hold on government.

Not geniuses. Not people to take advice from, unless it’s advice on how to get in on the scam.

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The Betrayal At The Heart of Sanders, AOC and Corbyn’s Refusal To Use Power

You’ve probably heard of Manchin. Conservative Democratic Senator. With a 50/50 Senate and few Republican Senators willing to cross the aisle, Manchin has been having a field day: he’s been determining much of what can be done by Democrats, since without him they can’t get votes thru the Senate.

Manchin’s mostly using this for evil, but recently he decided to oppose Biden’s budget chief pick, Neera Tanden. Neera’s a famous twitter warrior, who was viciously anti-Bernie, but she also famously shut down Think Progress, a media site she ran, because the workers unionized. She punched a journalist in the chest, and outed a sexual assault survivor.

Now Machin isn’t opposing Tanden because of stuff like the union, but he is opposing her and there’s a good chance she won’t get in. What he’s really doing, though, is trying to stop Hillary Clinton’s primary proxy from being in the Biden administration, because that’s what she is.

Bernie, who chairs the committee she has to get by, has not opposed her even though she’s been his savage enemy, and he is opposed ideologically to her.

Manchin is using his power, and Sanders is not.

Let’s think back to when Nancy Pelosi was running for Speaker. It was a close run affair and AOC and the squad had the votes to stop her. Yes, the person who got in would have been very slightly worse, but the difference is marginal and Pelosi is almost done in politics anyway, given her age. The Squad voted for Pelosi and got nothing for it: they tried to claim that the organizing resolution not including Covid and the environment as requiring budget neutrality was their win, but that doesn’t pass the laugh test, because those are Biden’s priorities. Pelosi’s always been very willing to work with the priorities of Presidents: Democratic or Republican.

They had power, didn’t use it, got nothing. AOC didn’t even get the committee assignment she wanted. It wasn’t Pelosi who made sure she didn’t get it, but she didn’t lift a hand to help AOC either.

Let’s consider a third situation: the first Covid stimulus bill. Progressives could have stopped it. They didn’t. But that bill had the key bailouts for the rich. Once they were done, Progressives had no leverage. Future Covid relief bills, centrists and right wingers didn’t care: it wasn’t important to them if ordinary people got relief, so they’d just hold firm for really crazy stuff.

Sanders and AOC had a chance to hold what the rich needed in order to get something for the poor. They didn’t.

This is a pattern, and a nearly constant one. It is related to Sanders being unwilling to call out Biden on his record because “Biden was his friend.” (Gagging sounds. Their friendship isn’t worth millions of Americans in poverty because a Biden admin won’t help them.)

But what I want to examine now is the use of power.

Here’s a rule: power everyone knows you won’t use, you don’t have.

Left-wingers are not credible because they never use their power. We saw this with Corbyn in Britain when  he repeatedly refused to throw out MPs who challenged him or allow MPs to be re-selected (primaried, in effect.) There was nothing they couldn’t do to his cause or him that would get him to retaliate.

If AOC had taken down Pelosi people would remember. Pelosi did not and does not want her last political memory and piece of  history being defeated for the role of Speaker. AOC and the Squad had the ability to take something away from Pelosi that REALLY mattered to her, and everyone would have noticed that they did so and would take their threats seriously in the future. Including the guy who won the Speakership, who, if they controlled the margin next time would know they’d take HIM down if they didn’t get something important to them.

When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister of Britain some Conservative MPs voted against his most important project: Brexit. He immediately threw them out of the party, and went on to resoundingly win the election.

Voters don’t like wimps who won’t use their power and they are correct in this: if you won’t fight, it doesn’t matter what you believe. Corbyn was the man who could take any punch, but would never throw one, no matter what his opponents did.

Using power tells both your enemies and your friends that you are serious, and that your demands must be met or you will make them pay.

Progressives (not necessarily AOC/Sanders/Corbyn, but those who justify their behavior) are like bullying victims who have forgotten that you end bullying only by hurting the bully (win or lose) not by giving in to them. Progressives who support them are often similar, they’re scared “but if we oppose Tanden won’t Biden retaliate?”

Let the fucker retaliate (though he probably wouldn’t much care, she’s Hillary’s servant, not his.) It’s a 50/50 Senate, and Bernie is a powerful committee chairman. He can make Biden’s life Hell AND, more to the point, Biden already isn’t doing most of what Bernie wants despite Bernie being super nice to him. Being nice doesn’t work. Threatening Biden’s legacy might. Sanders can have exactly the power Manchin wields, and more, the second he wants it: the second he decides that making them remember that if the poor people he represents don’t get something, neither do the rich.

A compromise is where you get something and so do I. What progressives do far too often is capitulate: they get nothing.

Use your power, or you don’t have it.

I’m going to return to this and the reasons, which go beyond a misunderstanding of how to use power or cowardice (Corbyn is not in any way a coward) , because it’s important. I like Bernie and AOC, and I admire Corbyn, but their refusal to use power is a betrayal, and I use that word deliberately, of the people they represent and who trust them.

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The Core Social Principles of Ideologies

Every ideology has a few core principles: guiding lights, or pole-stars, which believers should use to guide themselves.

The fundamental proposition; the IDEAL, of Confucian government, is that the rulers should govern as if they are benevolent parents. If they do not do so, they are not legitimate, but tyrants.

The fundamental proposition of feudalism and related ideologies is that some bloodlines are better than others, and those from those bloodlines deserve to rule.

The fundamental proposition of capitalism is that money is earned by providing “utility” and that those who have money have it because they have done the most good. This easily turns into oligarchy, “those with the most money are the most virtuous & should rule.”

The fundamental proposition of democracy is that all legitimacy comes from the citizenry (people) and that they should rule, sometimes by selecting others; sometimes directly.

The fundamental proposition of Westminster style democracy (parliamentary) is that “Parliament is Supreme!” It can do whatever it wants, and one Parliament cannot tie the hands of another one. (Treaties have been used to try to get around this, doing so is illegitimate.)

The fundamental proposition of American enlightenment democracy is that everyone is equal. It was originally phrased as “all men”, but that is an error requiring correction, and much of American history is about the attempt to properly live up to the proposition.

The fundamental social teaching of Jesus, was that we should help the least of us, and that great wealth is an evil.

Buddhism, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a great deal of governing philosophy, but the proposition is that life always involves suffering and that we should try and end or reduce suffering as much as possible, including in animals.

Communism’s core proposition is that the means of production should be controlled by the masses: that power should not be a consequence of wealth or property.

Once you’ve identified the core proposition of an ideology, you use that as your pole star, moving ever towards it. You’re not a communist if you allow private concentration of wealth to control the economy or don’t keep control of economic activity in the hands of the workers in specific and the people in general.

All founders make mistakes and their disciples and heirs make more. It is your duty, if you follow a great ideology, to correct those errors. In Confucianism this includes Confucius’s treatment of women. In American democracy, systematic inequality and disenfranchisement.

In Buddhism this would be indifference to suffering because, hey, there’s no self anyway, amiright? In parliamentary democracy, it is believing the supremacy of Parliament either can be used against the people’s interest OR trying to bind Parliament and thus the democratic will.

If you have an individual philosophy or code of conduct/honor, it too may have a polestar. Mine is truth. In matters of public import, I try not to lie, because I believe we can’t make good decisions if we believe wrong things.

I also try to correct. I try to be open to being wrong, without being so open-minded I accept nonsense. Just had a long conversation with a friend that convinced me I had misunderstood some important things about the modern left. I was grateful to learn where I had been wrong.

Use this post as a spur for thought. What are the polestars for various ideologies? What are your polestars in various parts of your life.

Bonus: if there’s more than one polestar, where do they conflict or help each other and when?

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 21, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek.

Corey Robin [The Nation, May 7, 2013]

Why have marxists and socialists failed so spectacularly in opposing movement conservatism and neoliberalism?  I think one major factor is an intellectual infatuation with Nietzsche, which blinds them to Nietzsche’s oligarchical pedigree and mindset. This is why I believe we need a revival of the ideas and ideals of civic republicanism, because the issues always come down to republicanism versus oligarchical elites. 

The Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek is the leading theoretician of this movement, formulating the most genuinely political theory of capitalism on the right we’ve ever seen. The theory does not imagine a shift from government to the individual, as is often claimed by conservatives; nor does it imagine a simple shift from the state to the market or from society to the atomized self, as is sometimes claimed by the left. Rather, it recasts our understanding of politics and where it might be found. This may explain why the University of Chicago chose to reissue Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty two years ago after the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Like The Road to Serfdom (1944), which a swooning Glenn Beck catapulted to the bestseller list in 2010, The Constitution of Liberty is a text, as its publisher says, of “our present moment.”

But to understand that text and its influence, it’s necessary to turn away from contemporary America to fin de siècle Vienna. The seedbed of Hayek’s arguments is the half-century between the “marginal revolution,” which changed the field of economics in the late nineteenth century, and the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918. It is by now a commonplace of European cultural history that a dying Austro-Hungarian Empire gave birth to modernism, psychoanalysis and fascism. Yet from the vortex of Vienna came not only Wittgenstein, Freud and Hitler but also Hayek, who was born and educated in the city, and the Austrian school of economics….

Open Thread

Use comments to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

Texas Lessons For Preparing For The Ongoing Collapse

The Texas disaster is a very dramatic example of what I’ve been urging people to prepare for.

When I was a kid I lived in a number of third world nations: Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and visited a bunch more.

In a failing state, stuff just doesn’t work well, and when there is a shove, it collapses. You can count on infrastructure or the state when things go bad.

Most of the time it’s less dramatic than the Texas disaster, BUT when you have a fragile state and infrastructure, every disaster turns into a catastrophe. Texas is the worst first world infrastructure collapse we’ve seen, but California in recent years has embarassed itself.

In fragile ecosystems, as well, events burn out of control quickly, as with the Australian, Brazilian, Californian, and various other wildfires.

Further, “once in a hundred year” weather events are becoming common. This was predicted by Stirling Newberry back in the 90s to me (he couldn’t get it published) and it’s now understood by scientists to be the case.

So if you have a neoliberal austerity state which has spent 40 years de-regulating and privatizing public infrastructure and downsizing the public service into incapability, you wind up with a situation where you can’t count on the State for water, food, or power during emergencies.

That means you have to prepare for yourself. Some off-grid energy, some food and medicine and water stores or ability to get those even in a collapse.

Collapses are sometimes brief: Texas will be back to normal soon enough, though the water damage caused by bursting pipes will lead to a lot of folks winding up homeless.

But they will become more frequent and even when there isn’t a crisis America and various other nations will move to a situation where rolling brown-outs and black-outs are common; where you can’t trust the water (already true in large parts of America) and where healthcare is more and more rationed. (One scandal in the UK is how people with learning disabilities are not being ressusitated from Covid: that sort of “triage” will continue and become wider.)

There are a lot of different decline scenarios. For many people “chronic with irregular but frequent mini-crises” is a good one to expect. The state won’t go away entirely; the cities will not collapse 98% and empty into the country the Dark Ages, but life will get shittier and more uncertain the social supports that were common and routine; the competence expected from the Great Society and which lived on because the Great Engineers of the 30s-70s did good work, will go away.

In such a situation you need to be able to handle bumps. If power goes out for a few hours or days or even two or three weeks, you need to handle it. If food is disrupted, you need to handle it. (Hardest is water.)

That’s just how it’s going to be.

These solutions don’t have to be individual or family based, they can be communal outside the State, but if you don’t have them, it takes little to destroy your life. If you’ve got the money, something like this off the grid house in the inner city is a good idea, if you don’t you should still make preparations.

Remember, these sort of events will become chronic, and in time lesser versions will just become part of everyday life. I expect, assuming I live a normal lifespan (and I’m not young any more) to see in the first world the sort of brown-outs and blackouts that were common in the third world when I was young: but exacerbated by climate and social collapse.

Get ready now, while you still can. Leave it too late, and it will be, well, too late.

Worst case scenario, if by some miracle our society pulls itself together, you’ve spent money on some preparedness you don’t use and have a home with higher resale value.

And remember, don’t build your wonderful home on a Florida flood plain; a place where the aquifers will all dry up in 20 years or the equivalent.

Be well.

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