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

Category: Further Reading

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 31, 2019

Strategic Political Economy

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-19]

The most puzzling critiques have come not from Republicans, but from the center left, broadly speaking. They urge policies to reduce greenhouse gases that are perfectly commensurate with the GND framework … but present them as alternatives to the GND framework. (We’ll look at some examples later.)

The connecting theme, the message, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, is this: move more slowly. Accept piecemeal progress rather than a big thing. Don’t push beyond strict carbon policy into social or economic policy….

The only way Democrats can hope to pass any legislation — not big legislation, any legislation — is by radically shaking up the status quo balance of powers. That would mean getting rid of the filibuster, possibly granting statehood to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, reforming the electoral college and voting laws, and possibly expanding the Supreme Court.

Every piece of that reform agenda is big, risky, and unlikely to succeed, and at the end of it there would still be an enormous struggle over climate legislation (even getting 51 Democratic senators to be bold is a challenge). If you were in Vegas, you’d bet against any of this happening.

But let’s be clear: The alternative is not small, sensible, bipartisan steps, as so many pundits and pols are promising. The alternative is nothing. And on climate change, nothing means disaster. Those who would ask us to resign ourselves to disaster should, at the very least, frankly acknowledge the implications.

Incrementalism only works with willing partners on the other side, and there are none. (Emphasis in original)

This last is exactly what Brad DeLong said in an interview at the end of February: A Clinton-era centrist Democrat explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance:

We were certainly wrong, 100 percent, on the politics. Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy. He’s all these things not because the technocrats in his administration think they’re the best possible policies, but because [White House adviser] David Axelrod and company say they poll well.

And [Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel and company say we’ve got to build bridges to the Republicans. We’ve got to let Republicans amend cap and trade up the wazoo, we’ve got to let Republicans amend the [Affordable Care Act] up the wazoo before it comes up to a final vote, we’ve got to tread very lightly with finance on Dodd-Frank, we have to do a very premature pivot away from recession recovery to “entitlement reform.”
All of these with the idea that you would then collect a broad political coalition behind what is, indeed, Mitt Romney’s health care policy and John McCain’s climate policy and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy.

And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years?
No, they fucking did not. No allegiance to truth on anything other than the belief that John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are the leaders of the Republican Party, and since they’ve decided on scorched earth, we’re to back them to the hilt. So the politics were completely wrong, and we saw this starting back in the Clinton administration.

Today, there’s literally nobody on the right between those frantically accommodating Donald Trump, on the one hand, and us on the other.

Re: The Green New Deal: First, Shoot the Economists
CounterPunch 3-29-19 [via Jon Larson]

Not content with having acted as apologists for rapidly accumulating environmental crises, economists are now coming out of the woodwork to give their advice on the limitations of any transition program. In the first, the claim is that ‘we’ can’t afford one. In the second, it is that even if we could afford such a program, it would cause inflation. Both assertions proceed from the premise that Western capitalism is a neutral basis from which to proceed….

The affordability argument is a canard: capitalists have already absconded with the “profits” that make a Green New Deal necessary. These profits are either equal to or greater than the cost of cleaning up the environmental mess they created, or the totality of profits is less than their cost in terms of environmental destruction. In the prior, the Green New Deal is affordable. Capitalists have already proven it is by putting its costs in their own pockets. In the latter, three centuries of capitalist production have been a net loser once environmental costs are considered.

Economics as Cultural Warfare: The Case of Adam Smith

Tony Wikrent [Real Economics 3-28-19]

Adam Smith was the voice of the British establishment and the newly minted British commercial oligarchy which vehemently opposed the idea that the United States should attempt to be anything other than producers and suppliers of basic agricultural commodities.

by James K. Galbraith [American Affairs Journal, Volume II, Number 4 (Winter 2018): 79–86.]

Book review of Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics, by Robert Skidelsky (Yale University Press, 2018)

In the twentieth century, with the gold standard in retreat, Wicksell and Fisher developed the quantity theory of money—more precisely a quantity of money theory of inflation. What really mattered was not the substance of money but control over how much of it there was. Good control would keep prices stable and debts good. Monetarism, the descendant doctrine of Milton Friedman, would triumph at the Federal Reserve with the arrival of Paul Volcker in 1979, even though Volcker was not himself committed to the theory. Chaos and recession ensued, and monetarism was abandoned in the world debt crisis of 1982. Truly nothing changes and very little is learned, over centuries, in economics….

Skidelsky treats these great monetary battles primarily as struggles over ideas. Yet he is aware that behind ideas lie interests, and that the division of economic ideas into binary oppositions reflects the class opposition between creditors and debtors–one dominant and the other oppressed, but each always necessary to the existence of the other. The fact that ideas follow the interests that can pay for them accounts for much of the recurrence of spurious and indefensible ideas in economic thought. Skidelsky, however, is above all a historian of ideas, so this book is cast largely as an account of ideologies and intellectual debates and not of class struggles. There is no doubt, moreover, that some of the most meretricious zealots in the long history of economists’ service to power and wealth were also among the most fiendishly clever…. In the center and on the right, the field is peopled by pompous mediocrities occasionally exposed as such–as in the film Inside Job. They hold their positions only through the interlocking tribalism of American academic life….

But the facts point to an intractable problem: those whose attention cannot be shifted by the collapse of their own worldview are simply beyond reach. This is a problem for the universities, who are stuck with entire departments of stranded intellects, enclosed upon themselves, well-funded by outside sponsors, and a danger to the sound instruction of students and to the future of the world. In the decade since the financial crisis, not one so-called top economics department has hired a single senior professor who had accurately foretold the calamity to come. It should be evident, by this point, that this is not accidental.

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-19]

The US quest to “contain” China is becoming a lonely one, and for good reasons. Pressuring allies to bar Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from their fifth-generation (5G) networks could set back their telecom architecture by at least a year or two and cost them billions of dollars. Preventing allies from joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is to demand that they ignore their national interests.

It might be for these reasons that four major European leaders – Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission – have defied US President Donald Trump’s warnings on Huawei and the BRI.

Climate and environmental crises

Further Reading: May 8, 2018

More pieces worth reading.

An Israeli private intelligence firm tried to gather compromising information on Obama officials behind the Iran nuclear deal. Lots of people want that deal dead, and a nice little war.

In the last two years, half the Great Barrier Reef has died.

“You like to breathe?” Crosby asked. “Estimates are that up to 80 percent of the oxygen you are breathing in right now comes from the ocean. It doesn’t come from the land. In order for you to continue to breathe, you have to have a healthy ocean.”

Might be that this matters. Coral die-offs correlate to great die-offs, and in the past, no apex predator has ever survived a great die-off. (A commenter pointed this out, but I do not remember who, my apologies.)

Civil forfeiture, where police take money or another asset, even though no crime has ever been proved, now takes more from Americans than robbery. This piece on how customs and borders took forty-one thousand from an American (she sued to get it back, and will eventually) includes a lot of interesting background.

This short piece at Emptywheel, by Ed Walker, talks about the political gift economy: How corporations and rich people give politicians gifts; politicians enact legislation or policies favorable to the rich, and everyone pretends there is no actual exchange going on.

This older news piece talks about how Britain’s spies are to use social media to disrupt “misinformation”. Do I have to say how much asking spies to decide what is misinformation or not seems dubious and anti-democratic?

What are you reading that other people should read? Tell us in the comments.

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Further Reading: May 4, 2018

Once again, articles I’ve been reading which you might wish to as well.

First, the Canadian experience with public/private partnerships building schools.

Even the KPMG Value for Money report on the Saskatchewan P3 schools shows the traditional build model is less expensive on all accounts (construction, procurement, financing). The one exception is KPMG’s addition of $150.4 million in “retained risks” slapped onto the cost of the traditional build model. These “risks” are not actual costs incurred, but rather an imaginary number pulled out of the air. It is only because of these theoretical risks the government claims the P3 model is cheaper.

We can look to other provinces for more evidence P3s are costlier. In 2014, the Conservative government of Alberta cancelled plans to build 14 schools with the P3 model to save $14 million. The New Brunswick auditor general found two P3 schools cost $1.7 million more than publicly delivered and maintained schools. In 2014, Ontario’s auditor general reviewed 74 P3 projects and found there was “no empirical data” to support the P3 model, and that they cost $8 billion more than if they had been publicly financed and operated.

Well, ouch. But remember, the private sector is always more efficient!

Seems farmland bird populations in France have dropped by a third over the past fifteen years due to pesticides and intensive farming, and the rate of loss is speeding up. Biologists are warning of the land turning into dessert. Ha! Our politicians and biotech firms would never allow or do such a thing!

It seems that the fascist right in the US has, for the moment, basically been crushed. (And punched, rather a lot.) A detailed state of play.

And in your “Peons? Who needs peons?” news, the Chinese military is testing unmanned tanks. Apparently they may start testing AI driven tanks soon. While I rather don’t expect Skynet, the less our lords and masters need humans as enforcers, the less chance they will be overthrown if they get (even more) out of hand. But, hey, I’m sure it’ll be okay. They’d never use that stuff on their own citizens or in aggressive war.

Well, that’s what I’ve been reading. What have you been reading that you think others should read as well?

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.

Further Reading: May 3, 2018

So, for a long time I’ve kept track of interesting stuff I should write about.

And not written about most of it.

So the plan is a series of “Further Reading” posts in which I give brief commentary and links to stuff I think is, well, worth reading. (Er, and also some tweets and graphics and maybe songs or podcasts and so on.)

Inaugural edition, ahoy!

Let’s start with a nice graphic showing up the creek we are on climate change with respect to changing what energy we use. Could write a post on that but I may have already a few times this year. *cough*

Amazon is a shit place to work and Jeff Bezos is not a nice person to his employees, edition “carry bottles to pee in because you have no time to do so if you work at Amazon.”

Could be I spend a bit too much time on twitter, but this little graphic on whether Brits want to rejoin the EU after leaving is worth viewing.

The world bank is the less sucky of the IMF and World Bank pair. I say this to provide context to the fact the World Bank is recommending countries scrap minimum wage laws.

And a bit old, but the Gulf Stream system is slowing down much faster than projected due to climate change. That’s the thing that keeps Europe warmer than it should be, and also, if it slows down too much, East coast North American storms will be much worse. Fun.

What have you been reading, listening to, etc… that you think is worth people’s attention?

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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