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

Open Thread

Use the comments to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.


How Finance Sharks Destroy Industries: Chicago Tribune Edition


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 30, 2021


  1. Warvigilent

    In light of the recent revelations here in BC at a residential school, does anyone else remember someone making claims about this very thing years ago but they were largely dismissed? I think in part because they were lacking proof but more that people thought they were over exaggerated .

  2. bruce wilder

    The residential schools existed for a long time. I am certain there were many times through the decades when the poverty of those ill-conceived institutions and the consequences of that poverty in poor nutrition, violence among and against the student-residents, and outbreaks of epidemic diseases were documented.

    I was raised Catholic and still I cannot quite fathom the moral/authoritarian outlook that festers inside and somehow keeps such failing institutions going, behind a dubious fascade of respectability. It is not, I think, the moral intention of a single will — no, it is a by-product of “compromise” among conflicting ideas and co-evolved complicities. Obviously, it fed from the spring of contempt for indigenous people and cultures, but it fed on such combinations as the determination of one political interest to have such institutions and another interest’s insistence on not funding them adequately.

  3. bruce wilder

    EU – Switzerland talks broke down over labor protection, immigration, state aid and ECJ scope and the general tenor of EU demands, which Swiss opponents characterize as passive membership.

  4. nihil obstet

    The members of authoritarian institutions don’t believe they have a”spring of contempt for indigenous people”. They believe that they are trying to help those who lack the capabilities of the more advanced peoples. They believe that all the effects of poverty and violence in the underfunded and ill-run schools are not effects of their schools, but of the failings of the pupils. It’s the same as the belief that poor people are poor not because the social system does not have adequate general welfare structures but because the poor are lazy, stupid, make bad choices. So over the years, the authoritarian institutions keep going trying to get the students to adopt the superior habits of the main culture.

    Look at how many failed institutions we have. Few people think they ought to be ditched or completely restructured. Most people believe that we just have to keep trying to get them right with better incentives or more commitment from the victims.

  5. bruce wilder

    Of course, we have all encountered the simple-minded who are always ready to believe the cover story, the “good intentions” of the idealist frontmen at the outset. It is the denial of the rot and ruin as an institution sinks into perversity that I do not quite get. Hypocrisy I understand. The complicity of blind complacency, the refusal to see that psychopaths have taken over, which is only broken by the late “discovery” of some horror, a “discovery” narrative that pretends that secrecy not indifference has been the shield of evil.

    Of course, there is a counterpart — a persistent consensus that some institution is failing can be used to attack that institution as, for example, public schools have been attacked by the paid prophets of charter schools.

  6. someofparts

    Well, this is a departure from the drift of the thread so far, but I want to say something because I am really rattled.

    I was just idly checking rental listings on Zillow. I do that from time to time because I rent and live on Social Security, so the budget is tight. In this town, the neighborhoods where it would be bearable to live keep getting more expensive. So I make it a practice to stay alert to the rents in the area in case I have to move. I hope that won’t happen, but it is wise to have a backup plan just in case.

    It has not been more than a couple of months since the last time I checked, and the jump in prices I saw tonight makes me sick to my stomach. This town is the destination for a tsunami of very well-paid people from places like NYC that will be working remotely from now on. I’m being internally colonized out of my own hometown.

    Everything is probably okay for a few years where I am. I don’t think the landlord is in a position to do the borrowing and remodeling it would take to command the true current market price for this place. Maybe I’ll get lucky and it will remain available and affordable longer than I remain alive, but it would still be wise to be prepared to make other arrangements just in case.

    A while back Ian said this might be a good time to get out of the country. I thought about it and decided against it. Now I wonder if staying put is really the safe choice. Maybe, considering the country I live in, taking a chance on making it out is less dangerous than sticking around.

  7. Joan

    @someofparts, that’s definitely too bad about getting priced out of your hometown. Where are your neighbors going; is there a second wave of people going somewhere else? If you’re not needing to commute into a job, maybe moving to a less fashionable town would be a good idea? Though it stinks to have to pick up and start over, especially in terms of social connections.

  8. Astrid


    Sorry to hear that! Hopefully it’s just a temporary worry (and will never be an actual issue) for you, as I know of PMCers getting called back to their offices in the fall, once there is more clarity on the COVID situation. I don’t think this WFH thing is as beneficial as they think it is. In the longer run, if the office fauna with bullshit jobs (I count myself amongst them) are not seen in the office, they will be easy to replace with remote drones from cheaper locations, or maybe just automated out of existence. There’s a lot of pollyanna-ish thinking from PMCers during the pandemic, that lead to everything from badly house trained pandemic puppies to waiving inspection and finance in houses bought sight unseen. It’s not likely to end well for the 90 percentilers.

    I think it is definitely worth investigating options in Latin America and SEAsia. Yes, it would be hard in terms of losing social connections and not knowing the language, but many of these places do have spaces catering to expats, very good inexpensive health care, good weather, great food, and hopefully a big enough expat community that you can find like minded people.

    One of the other possible options might be to see if there are any age and income restricted housing in nearby area and get on the list. These seem somewhat common in major metropolises, not sure if that’s an option at all in your locality, but might be worth investigating as an outside chance. I’ve heard of group home schemes too, if you’re open to living with others in a long term basis.

    The other thing is maybe an inventory of your social network and see if any nearby friends or relative may have a spare bedroom or basement, and the sort of temperament that will accommodate you for a while. It’s not an optional option certainly, but having something lined up just in case may bring a peace of mind even if you never need to use it.

  9. someofparts

    Well, being old is a factor in the housing thing. At my age, most of my friends are already dispersed. When people retire they are free to live where they please, so they move.

    Living farther out from the center of town would be the only option financially if moving became necessary, but in this town that would make me car-dependent, which could mean being trapped great distances from basic services if I aged out of driving. That happened to my god-sister and it was awful. This is also a very right-wing, illiterate place outside of the city.

    Figuring out where to move if it comes to that is the challenge. The most promising alternate part of the city is an area just beyond the perimeter highway that is a nationally recognized destination for immigrants. I had nothing but good experiences with immigrant colleagues during my work years, so that might be a solution. I would hope that because the population there is known to be largely new immigrants, there might be a bit of public resistance to letting the incoming locusts push up the prices out there as hard as they are in the rest of the town.

  10. someofparts

    My apologies for the thread-jacking. It’s actually safer to vent here than to share these concerns with friends in real life who would worry even though helping would be beyond their powers.

    I hope that, despite being a single data point, my situation is representative enough to give people a glimpse of what it feels like to be part of the human collateral damage in this national crime scene that pretends to be an economy. My situation is easy compared to what real refugees experience, but unlike those refugees, I can come to a place like this and talk about it. Mostly that is probably a waste of everyone’s time, but I do hope it is a little bit useful around the edges.

  11. Astrid


    I really appreciated you sharing your concern and distress. I posted some of my thoughts in a comment in moderation, which will hopefully show up.

    I think your idea of exploring a immigrant heavy neighborhood is good and now something for me to think about, as we’re considering an upcoming move (deferred by Covid but looks like it’ll be necessary as retirement is still about 10 years away for us at the earliest). Immigrants are more resilient and no nonsense. They may also be better able to ally and support each other as a matter of survival, in hard times.

    If walkability is a concern and since you’re pretty open to living amongst people of different backgrounds, I think emigration might indeed be worth exploring, since non-US locations are typically far more walkable or public transit-able, especially if you live cheaply in town and not in a suburban compound at the edge of settlements. Moon puts out a series of guides on moving to different countries and I’ve seen them in most libraries.

    I also wonder if it’s worth looking at moving to towns that your friends are now at is an option. Would your finances support visiting them and seeing how you like each town and if they might offer better lifestyle than your now PMC infested location?

  12. someofparts

    Astrid –

    I’ll check out the Moon series. That sounds useful. Thanks.

    My retired friends who live outside of the city are either in retirement communities I couldn’t afford even if I wanted to, or they are themselves in very car-dependent places.

    This city, Atlanta, has what I have heard is the worst public transportation system in the nation. That is so that poor black residents (of whom there are a great many) have no access to wealthy white neighborhoods. Even our snazzy city train system doesn’t go to any of the major, heavily populated counties adjacent to the city for that reason.

    Of course, now that even the poor areas in town are being overwhelmed by rich new residents, some of them have gone straight from being slums to being gentrified beyond the reach of mere mortals. It’s kind of joke for some of us that in the space of less than a decade some areas have gone from being unsafe to drive through to becoming too expensive to live in.

    Actually, I guess I am already accustomed to seeing large changes happen fairly quickly around here. I think that’s why it was such a shock to see rents go up so much so fast in the last two months. Even in a place where the pace of change is already fast, the tempo of change now is a huge acceleration. I have a bad feeling that the rate of collateral damage to people like me is also going to accelerate.

    I’m going to check out the Moon source you mentioned and also start looking at rents in Clarkston, where we have that robust immigrant community. For bonus points, immigrants are much of the staff at the city farmers’ market, which is down the road from Clarkston just inside the perimeter. It is massive, glorious and feels kind of like the United Nations of produce.

  13. Astrid


    Clarkston sounds promising. Once decline happens, close access to local food may be a big plus. Since you’re in Atlanta area, I would recommend investigating if there are any subsidized housing options available. Some of them have long wait but you might as well play the housing lottery and see what happens.

    I understand that you probably can’t settle in your friends’ new neighborhoods, but might there be moving opportunities in a nearby town? So you’re at least in the same social and mutual help sphere? Also, I believe Atlanta and the”new South” are relatively expensive (this is my impression as my in-laws live in Greenville, SC and prices are comparable to further suburbs of Washington DC), at least compared to the Midwest, Central PA, and upstate NY.

    I will say that I currently live in Central PA and I think Harrisburg is a very liveable city. It’s a small city laid out in the 1800s, with affordable downtown apartments, with walkable stores, markets, and green spaces. I believe Cleveland, Indianapolis, and even Detroit may also have similar features. They have water, farmland, and not too many natural disasters threats. They’re smallish defensible cities. They have decent hospital networks. If you have a friend network nearby one of these places, they might suit your needs well.

  14. someofparts

    Astrid – Thanks very much for those ideas about places in other states that might be more affordable. I did not realize Atlanta was known for being expensive.

    A mid-sized city in Pennsylvania or New York might be a good solution to housing affordability concerns. I tend to forget that in other parts of the country living in a small town could actually be a workable cultural fit. In the deep South small-town life is not an option because I would be socially out of place in those locales.

    I attend Quaker meetings here. If I can find some affordable, mid-sized city in a state like Pennsylvania or New York that has a Quaker community I could use that to make relocation fairly smooth, socially speaking.

    Thanks for all the helpful ideas.

    Also, on a completely unrelated point, I am absolutely enjoying all the things I’m learning from you about China. Your conversations about the place are a wonderful antidote to all the infantile gibberish I hear about it from the American press.

  15. Astrid

    Harrisburg has a Friends Meetinghouse next to Broad Street Market (oldest covered market in the US and I prefer it to much bigger covered markets in Philly and Seattle) and within a very walkable downtown area. There’s an excellent indie movie theater (Midown Cinema) and bookstore (Midtown Bookstore) within walking distance and several good restaurants. Harrisburg has an iffy reputation and there are definitely poorer parts of the city (though nothing like West Baltimore or bad parts of Detroit), but the mid town area feels quite safe at night. No visible homeless population (though that may be due to overly aggressive policing). I’ve never taken public transit in the area but I do see buses on a fairly regular basis.

    We did get the Covid home buying hysteria in the area, as people snapped up house over asking, for cash, without contingencies, etc. But I see more inventory coming onto the market. Right now everything is still moving fast, but precovid 200k will get you a solid 4/2 rancher on some land in a decent school distruct.

    The home buying seems to be by locals and I think we’re too unfashionable for the DC/NYC/Philly crowd, even though we’re only 2 hours from DC and Philly, 3 hour train ride from NYC, and 1.5 hours from Baltimore. I know of people buying rowhouses in the midtown area for 100k because Harrisburg has high property taxes and bad schools.

    I would say the people here are mostly pretty friendly and open minded. Certainly not openly liberal the way that DC, there I used to live, is. That’s not really a bad thing as you’ll see less virtue signaling and less”woke” population. You will hear people say with a completely straight face that Trump is a moderate or Obama is a leftist, but not everyone is like that and even the ones who do can be easily redirected to a more friendly topic.

  16. Astrid


    I know I’m pitching Harrisburg very hard but I do really liked the area after living here for about 5 years. It honestly feel kind of like the Americas that people nostalgically talk about but hasn’t existed for 30 years elsewhere, either due to excessive prosperity (my experience is DC, Cali, and SC) or excess poverty, while this area has kept a pretty even keel.

    The houses fit into their environments, the businesses are catering to locals, the weather is pretty good for east coast (almost never so hot or so cold that being outside is utter misery) and the Midtown area is just lovely.

    If you ever do want to check out the area or just do some tourism this summer, I would be happy to host you. If that’s the case, just ask Ian for my email address to contact me.

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