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

Month: October 2021 Page 1 of 3

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 31, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-27-21]


‘Every Turn in This Case Has Been Another Brick Wall, and Behind It Is Chevron’

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 10-29-2021]


Strategic Political Economy


Patrick Armstrong, October 28, 2021 [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-28-21]

I would say that the principal theme – but read it yourself, it’s an important speech (I’m almost tempted to say valedictory) – is that the West is going down. Russia, thanks to its historical experience, has lived the experience from start to finish – twice. As Putin pointed out there was plenty of “human engineering” in the early Soviet days; the USSR failed at imposing its system. Russians know that exceptionalism doesn’t work; not because they’re wiser but because they’ve lived the failure. “These examples from our history allow us to say that revolutions are not a way to settle a crisis but a way to aggravate it. No revolution was worth the damage it did to the human potential.”


Russia’s ‘Greens’ Revolution

Gilbert Doctorow, October 28, 2021 [via Patrick Armstrong]

In the question and answer session that followed President Putin’s speech to the annual Valdai Discussion Club meeting in Sochi last week, Vladimir Vladimirovich said he was thankful to the European Union for imposing sanctions on Russia in 2014, because Russia’s counter-sanctions, banning food imports from the EU, resulted in an enormous boost to its agricultural industry. Russian farming coped magnificently with the challenge. Putin mentioned the $25 billion in agricultural exports that Russia booked in the last year and he went on to thank Russia’s workers in the sector who made this possible.

These remarks would suggest to both laymen and experts in the West the emergence of Russia as the world’s number one exporter of wheat and its leading position as global exporter of other grains.

Why I see a war in the Donbass as (almost) inevitable

Open Thread

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I Was Shocked To Find Out How Many People The Terror Killed

Twenty-seven thousand. Seventeen thousand executed, ten thousand died in prison.

This is slightly less than 1/1000th of the French population.

This was the Terror? A higher percentage of Americans died in WWII, the Civil War, this pandemic (1 in 500) and nothing compared to, say, the Great Irish famine or hell, tons of other geopolitical events.

Now I’m not saying it was good, but the shadow it throws over our imagination is HUGE and I genuinely thought far more people had died because of it.

Perhaps it’s who mostly died: first aristocrats then various radicals (largely bourgeois) as they fought among themselves. Mostly somewhat important people. That must have terrified everyone of importance in every other European country: if it spread, they were for the chop. They wrote the first edition of history, and their personal terror has come down to us.

Napoleon, now his wars killed a vast number of people, somewhere between 3,250,000 to 6,500,000, but the Terror itself? No.

Mark Twain probably said it best in his “The Other Terror”, which I’ve quoted before and will quote again today.

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

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The Perceived Self-Interest Of The Rich And Powerful

Yesterday I had a brief article, which noted a general rule, “only things the rich and powerful believe will benefit them will be done” and applied it to shortages, suggesting that if the rich and powerful are benefiting from them, no serious action will be taken to end the crisis in countries where that is true.

I wanted to note that this is a general rule. It applied to Covid (70% increase in the wealth of billionaires) and it applies to climate change: most powerful people are old, they’re going to die before climate change gets bad, or that’s their bet, and for those who aren’t, they seem to assume their money will protect them. In Britain there’s a debate over forcing private water companies to stop spewing sewage, but so far, the government is resisting making them do so: after all, because dividends and stock option are more important.

Without a change in who runs government, who’s rich, and who runs the big firms, this sort of calculus, “does it affect we few powerful and rich?” will continue and I’d suggest using it as a heuristic for if something will be done. Sometimes it’ll be wrong, but the vast majority of the time it will work out.

It’s not impossible for this rule to get you something you might like. For example, there’s a push in some corporate circles towards a guaranteed income, simply because they need customers and are aware that too many people are becoming poor. Those businesses which want to sell mass quantities of goods without extreme markups thus need the working and middle class not to be completely impoverished.

But, overall, the rich and powerful are different, in the sense that they don’t see their interests as the same as those of ordinary people, and they have the ability to act on those perceived interests.

Take it into account. Build it into your worldview.

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How To Predict If The Shortages Will Be A Priority To Fix

Covid has not been a priority to fix in many countries for a simple reason: it’s making the rich a lot richer. U.S. Billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 70% during the pandemic.

Man, people dying and getting sick and having to buy much more online is good for Billionaires! What a time to be a peon!

So, as for the shortages, the question is how much they are inconveniencing people with power. If shortages are actually making the rich, richer, how can they be a problem politicians or anyone else with any power in most Western countries will take seriously?

I don’t know the answer to this, but so far what I’ve seen is that large customers are receiving limited goods first. Walmart fines supplies for late deliveries, small and medium size businesses can’t do that.

So my guess is that this will lead to further consolidation, wiping out more small and medium firms and allowing many to be bought up by their bigger brethren, and on top of that will make the big boys more money at the same time.

Of course, some industries will be losers, but overall it seems likely that at least for a time shortages will redound to the benefit of those with more money, and that they will see no urgency in ending them.

Hopefully I’m wrong (quite possible, not my area of expertise) on the shortages being good for most of the rich, but I’m sure I’m not wrong that if they are, the rich and powerful won’t give a damn how much other people are hurting, and won’t feel any urgency in ending the shortages.

Remember: in a lot of countries now, certainly the US and Britain, you cannot expect the government to act in your interest or care for you, unless it is in the interests of the powerful and rich that it does so. It may, if there are still existing programs not yet privatized but you should never expect it. You, your family and your friends, should make plans assuming that when bad things happen, there will be little help.

It’s ugly that this is so, but acknowledging the truth makes you more likely to survive.

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Periods of Popular Political Change Happen When…

…people recognize that their problems aren’t personal, but social.

Oh this isn’t the only requirement for change, but it is one of the requirements.

In “normal” times most people see their problems as personal: if they’re poor it’s because of something they did or didn’t do, or is related to people around them. “That damned boss.” It isn’t seen as political or structural. The line for much of the 80s-2000s was that Americans saw themselves as “temporarily embarrassed rich people.” If they weren’t making it, the problem wasn’t the politics but theirs. The perception was that anyone could make it. Maybe the system was unfair, but not prohibitively so.

Of course, not all people thought this way (there’s never universal groupthink) but enough did that there was no widespread push for serious changes.

What has changed recently is that people no longer think “its me, not you.” They think, “it’s you, not me” where “you” = society and politics. They may have taken the student loans, but they know boomers paid nothing or a nominal amount for university. They know they can’t afford a home or apartment, not because they don’t earn enough, but because wages have effectively gone down and real home prices have gone up vastly compared to what they were when their parents or grandparents bought up. They know medical care is too expensive and that drugs didn’t used to cost nearly this much.

People, especially young people, are getting that the problem is the system, not them. It’s a game of musical chairs and the people in the good chairs never stand up.

This isn’t, again, sufficient by itself for political change, but it is one of the necessary first steps: people must understand that without political change their lives aren’t going to get better and will probably get worse.

(My writing helps pay my rent and buys me food. So please consider subscribing or donating if you like my writing.)

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 24, 2021

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 24, 2021

Strategic Political Economy

Brazilian senators recommend Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity over pandemic

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-2021]


Brazilian Leader’s Pandemic Handling Draws Explosive Allegation: Homicide

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism 10-20-2021]


Why China’s Lead on EVs Has Been a Long Time Coming

[Bloomberg, via Mike Norman Economics 10-19-2021]

When it comes to green manufacturing, China is now a clean-energy powerhouse. Its market dominance from solar panels to electric vehicles took long-term planning and a level of financial investment only state-controlled banking systems can deliver. By 2030, China will have an outsized influence on this strategic industry, and it’s poised to seize a fair share of the jobs and wealth creation that come with it.


“Far-right Christians think they’re living in a Bible story, and that you are as well” [Flux, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 10-22-21]

“SHEFFIELD: And I think also that you could say that many moderate or liberal Christians, they’re not aware that this alternative tradition has developed, and really grown as big as it is. And they’re also not aware that that tradition is coming for them. And that it has a power that is very compelling to a lot of people because it’s totalizing. It’s a worldview that encompasses politics, that encompasses religion, that encompasses schooling, that encompasses family. It literally can run your life for you. It can make the decisions. It can make your identity. You can finally be a part of something bigger than yourself. DOUGLAS: They may also lack understanding about what this is because a lot of it is as a kind of craziness that’s outside of their specific church or cultural traditions, but some of it is shame. I think for lots of progressive and thoughtful and intellectual [01:00:00] Christians, to engage with fundamentalist theology and politics is to experience shame. Because it’s not like yours. It’s simplistic and binary and into this sort of Manichean binary of good and evil. It’s not as sophisticated as your own religious tradition. So I think that can oftentimes mean for the moderates and liberal/progressive Christians, there’s an experience of shame. And an attempt to, I think sometimes on the other hand argue that they’re not really Christian at all. Those people are not really Christian, they’re Christian nationalists, who aren’t really in the proper Christian tradition, like we’re practicing it. But that’s a different conversation.”


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Silencing the Competition: Inside the Fight Against the Hearing Aid Cartel

Matt Stoller, BIG, via Naked Capitalism 10-22-2021]

Open Thread

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