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.


Elementary School Covid Outbreaks in Ontario


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 12, 2021


  1. bruce wilder

    I have been puzzling over a question posed by Lambert Strether about the apparent inability to govern competently of the Professional / Managerial Class as represented politically by the Democratic Party of the Listen, Liberal! caricature.

    If they are the people organizing bureaucratic institutions, why can’t they get busy organizing, say, a complex but effective response to COVID19 instead of what we have been getting: divisive, means-test, complicated but not effectively complex et cetera. If they are the credentialled gatekeepers of science, why can’t they do science?

    I will venture an hypothesis. It is not a new idea, or my idea. It is just an update of a bit of anacyclosis I first heard in the 1970s when it was posited that America’s great business corporations had been run in the 1930’s and 1940’s predominantly by engineers, who were replaced in the C-suites during the 1950’s and 1960’s by salesmen and accountants.

    By extension, in the 1980s and 1990s, the salesmen and accountants were replaced by the Finance types, tuned to wall street and then leveraging the arbitrage opportunity handed them by China.

    In a subtle shift in the 2000s, accelerating after 2008, bull artists have come to the fore. In a way, it is as if the salesmen and financiers bred children and gave them all overdoses of acid. The lies keeping bigger and more detached from any underlying appreciation of reality. The future, they’ve decided, belong to those who control “the narrative”.

    Rather than try to control the production process (engineers do that) or product demand (salesman do that) or “the numbers” (the finance types), today’s hegemonic PMC is intent on controlling the narrative. That’s all you have to do, they think. Control the narrative.

    Control the narrative and you can have a glorious war anytime, anywhere. Control the narrative and you can sell NFTs — surely among the silliest frauds ever concocted. Bitcoin — sure, why not? It’s a good story, for some definition of “good story”. Somedays, Elon Musk is the richest man in the world (on paper at least) on the strength of nothing much more than the faith of his considerable fan base. Nikole Hannah-Jones is a journalist and historian, widely honored and published proudly by the august New York Times. Biden isn’t senile. Pretend and extend has become a way of life in the pre-catastrophic era of “clean coal”.

    It is a thesis well-designed for a rant or a twitterstorm I suppose, but . . . calmly now . . . isn’t it scarily descriptive? Scarily descriptive of a polity so corrupt that it cannot solve any problem, simply because it cannot handle the complexity and wants only to be fed and led by simplifying, moralistic narratives.

  2. NL

    I want to re-post this here, if possible. Thank you.

    I am sorry, my views are different. What you talk about in the first paragraph of your reply to me above I would file under the category of ‘managing our own population’. People need to be given a worldview, occupied, assured, persuaded and consented. Every demos (tribe, people) has such ongoing political discourse. Upward to 70% of Americans participate in it in some capacity, some assume one or the other identity and earn a living from it by participating as politicians, political operatives, newsmakers, opinion makers, vendors, event organizers, pollsters, etc. It is a large contributor to our GDP. To others, it is a sport no different than rooting for their home team. Still others take it as entertainment to disrupt the monotony of life – like holidays, personal events and … elections. There are also true believers. Call all these people stupid, if you want, but – you know – for most people it is easier to see the world in black and white, good vs evil, us against them. So naturally, any situation is us, ie, good, vs them, ie, evil, third world is always poor and dying, minorities are always underprivileged, we are always good and progressive (which we are but not the extent that most believe and not always), etc etc familiar, comforting narratives… I would not take any of this as a sign of our weakness or strength.

    Your second paragraph seems to present the standard argument that USSR was on a brink of collapse, and Gorbie had to do something. I strongly disagree with this contention and think that it is promoted to hide a great crime perpetuated onto the Russian population by a group of conspirators that, BTW, includes the present Russian regime. The USSR war in Afghanistan was no more bloody than our wars in Korea or Vietnam. USSR lost at most ~30K in Afghanistan, we lost more in Korea and much more in Vietnam (and naturally huge numbers of dead among Vietnamize and Koreans resulted from our wars there). The protest in USSR against the war in Afghanistan – driven by unwillingness of parents to let their sons participate in it – was no more ferocious than the protest in the US against the Vietnam war for the same reason — but what do we do? We respond by abolishing universal draft, making our army volunteer, and changing the nature of combat (eg., reliance on air power) to minimize casualties. What do the Soviets do? — They torch their economy and political economic system!!! — does that even make sense? And let me ask you this — did all those Gorbachev and Yeltsin reforms make Russia safer? Did they? The answer is clear and resounding NO. They made Russia less safe and triggered a plethora of conflicts — most notable being the wars in Chechnya — ~20K dead at least. And now they are sitting like a duck in the middle of hostile nations — Ukrainians, Poland, the Baltics, while we are slowly but surely tightening our noose around them. It is just a matter of time before we choke them off…

    Likewise, the economic problems of the USSR in the 1980s are overblown. As I wrote in the previous post, the economy was gutted on PURPOSE to justify what happened next. The flip side of those lines at stores was that people had money to buy stuff. By mid 1990s, the stores were full of things, people had no money to buy anything and were near starving. The only reason the country did not go through a massive famine was that most people had access to land and could grow their own food. If Gorbie and his clique believed that the economy was irreparably damaged, they were wrong. But there is plentiful evidence that Gorbie & Co chose to derail and disrupt economic activity. I have read testimony of USSR industry and factory heads who alerted Gorbie himself and his personnel that the course that he chose would lead to economic ruin, and he ignored all the warnings. Likewise corruption — everyone has it, we have too — it is called political donations, special interest groups, foundations, legacies, etc etc etc…

    I think that the clearest evidence that Gorbachev intended to do what he had done (ie., switch to the pseudo-capitalist oligarchic economic system even if it meant scores of dead and dispossessed Russians) is that he has never ever expressed regret or apologized for his years in the leadership — NEVER. It is almost as if he is proud of the present state of affairs. When people do something, and it goes wrong, they feel regret and express remorse — those are normal human reactions. Gorbachev is proudly strolling the ruins of his country and lives off the foundation money that we had set up for him.

    In the third paragraph you seem to discuss the role of chance and possibility vs the role of personality. My view is that at any historical point (as well in almost anything else from cooking to engineering) there is a 1000 ways to screw things up, and 1-2-3 ways to make things right. Therefore, personalities who make those decisions matter a lot. The story of the village vs a big city is reminiscent of the American story of recent immigrants vs the previous wave. It is expected and a given that the recent wave will be ruthlessly exploited by the previous waves, as cheap labor. Within the US, what matters most is the socioeconomic status, coming from a lower socioeconomic status is much worth in terms of opportunities than coming from a village. I personally come from a small village in the middle of nowhere, and I happen to think that growing in a village is better for child’s intellectual and physical development than growing in the city. So, in due time, those migrants from inland will assert themselves in the coastal cities. Plus, the leadership recognizes the need for more even development of the country and has taken some measures.

    The best course for Russia is that Gorbachev’s legacy needs to be re-assessed, and he really needs to be prosecuted. This will not happen until members of the clique that he had brought to power remain in power. In a way, with land so expensive everywhere in the ‘Western’ world (the billionaires bid everything up; Bill Gates is the biggest agricultural land owner now in the US) , I am looking to a post-Big Russia time whereby investment opportunities may open up in the Far East, where land is cheap and is right next to all the major Asian centers of growth: China, Korea and Japan.

    Putin, a mid level KGB opperative, was not dealt anything, he was selected by the Gorbachev and Yelstin’s clique as the face of the new regime. His selection as the leader gives credence to those suggestions that it was a coup instigated by Yuri Andropov and the KGB to take over ownership of the country. As, Balzac said ‘behind every great wealth, there is a great crime’, and no crime goes unpunished. It is hard for me to see how Russia survives in the future.

  3. Ché Pasa

    Out here in the wilderness, shortages and high prices continue and are increasing in part because the “local” Walmart burned and closed, partially reopened, then closed again, putting major stresses on what few small retailers there are out here. They don’t get deliveries in any sort of coherent manner, they can’t rely on suppliers or transportation companies, so… they and we just wing it and hope for the best. Sometimes we and they get needed things; often we don’t. Cat food is increasingly hard to get and much more expensive when you can get it, for example. Lots of other supplies likewise.

    Since we’re close to the end of the supply chain and we have few choices for supplies, we feel the effects of the problem perhaps sooner and more thoroughly than our urban friends — who mostly haven’t noticed things they can no longer get or can’t afford.

    They will notice though soon enough, and I will bet they will be bewildered. Why do things cost so much? Why are more and more shelves so empty and not restocked? Why are so many items online listed as “out of stock?” What happened?


    Already, our local grocery store is charging $4.00 for a pound of broccoli, $3.00 for a head of lettuce, and 10% more for everything that hasn’t increased in price by 30-50% or more already. On the other side, they’ve lost literally half of their staff — who quit because their pay was too low. It was costing some of them more to work (what with transportation, child care, basic living expenses, etc.) than they were being paid.

    People are still moving out here, though the pace has slowed somewhat. For sale properties are staying on the market longer. In a couple of cases, I know the asking prices were reduced before sale. New construction still isn’t happening, but some used manufactured/mobile homes have been installed here and there.

    Gasoline is still over $3.00 a gallon, falling slowly. Diesel is mostly near $4.00. So far, electricity cost has been stable, but natural gas and propane are almost double last year’s cost. Firewood too. There are now programs in place and accessible to help cover increased home heating costs, but it’s still a struggle for people who were on the edge anyway.

    What’s helped a lot of folks are the child credits. $750-$2000 a month — paid in advance for once — is a needed boost. As much as whatever regime is in power is loathed, those payments alone have made a big difference in people’s lives and sense of well-being, other issues aside.

    The abortion fight seems strangely distant, maybe because it is not likely (yet) that NM will impose more onerous restrictions (like Texas next door.)

    Meanwhile, the weather has been ridiculously warm and dry (mostly), to the point where alarm bells are beginning to be rung. As for the recent tornado destruction elsewhere, I’m wondering how much won’t be rebuilt.

  4. Ché Pasa

    And I didn’t mention the Covid problem. Hospitals, they say, are at or over ICU capacity, and the Delta is continuing to spread. The numbers are daunting. Healthcare staffing continues to be a problem, but so far as I can see from out here, it’s being managed — coarsely and very expensively (thanks to all the MBAs/vultures running hospitals into the ground). I’ve been given partial dispensation to skip the next round of infusion treatments “if I’m feeling OK,” in part to preserve openings for people who are really ill. If I get sick with the Covid, however, I’ve been told to call immediately for monoclonal antibody treatments — which I understand have just been approved for prophylax though my insurance doesn’t cover it. Not yet.

    The rapid spread of the Delta (and possibly Omicron) show that the vaccines don’t necessarily keep you from getting it (neither do flu or pneumonia and many other vaccines necessarily keep you from getting those illnesses) but they may keep you from serious or life-threatening illness. That’s good enough for most people, it seems.

    The fact that vaccines aren’t available in most of the poorer countries and the disease is spreading and mutating pretty much unchecked is really all you need to know about the policies in place. The vultures will be fed, no matter what. Even if they lose a few of them in the process, Oh Well, there are more where those came from, no?

  5. GlassHammer

    “If they are the people organizing bureaucratic institutions, why can’t they get busy organizing, say, a complex but effective response to COVID19”
    – Bruce wilder

    Organizing an institution (bureaucratic or otherwise) is largely about laying down overlapping rules for operations in a very restrictive manner. This is necessary because you are trying to create a structure that creates repeatable results over a long period of time, deviation is only marginally desired.

    A pandemic response requires less structure and rapid adaptation, longterm solutions and repetition has to be set aside during the crisis. You need a crisis team that is excellent at moving from problem to problem making acceptable solutions for the short term. Solidifying and improving these acceptable/quick solutions is what Business/Organizational team is for.

    A crisis team and a business/organizational team are fundamentaly different and they can’t do each others job.

    The problem we have is that we believed our Organizational/Business teams created public health agencies capable of handling a pandemic but they did not.

  6. Astrid


    Thank you for that. I admit that I haven’t followed either Gorbachev or Putin’s careers closely, so I may have accepted the conventional wisdom on them without looking into it further. I do think that however Putin started, he’s not the West’s man anymore. His support of China and Iran and Syria, in opposition to the West, may be timid but is also real and very helpful. People and regimes and alliances shift. Putin appears to be a Russian nationalist and I think the West’s hostility to Putin is genuine and not play acting, as we see against Erdogan, Modi, or Bolsanaro. And again, the West had proven itself very dangerous and unscrupulous, so it makes sense to act carefully even when in a position of strength.

    I do think that Soviet style command economy was breaking down by the late 70s and 80s. Mostly because I see the patterns of decay in eastern Europe and China. Both were desperately trying to escape the development trap that had set in. China got lucky because oil prices dropped too much to follow Hua Guofeng’s resource export led development strategy and the negative initial feedback of the Eastern Block’s development efforts convinced them to look for another way. They may have also been shocked out of complacency by their personal experiences in the Cultural Revolution. I met some of these people (not at the highest levels but people who might be factory managers or head of a government department) in retirement in the 1990s, surviving against all odds through the Long March/WWII/Civil War, some taken down in anti-rightist campaign in the 1950s, almost all had their world turned upside down by the Cultural Revolution. At the time, their faith in the revolution seemed quaint and ridiculous, how can they continue to believe when everyone was hearing about so much corruption and decadence? That leadership chose to dance with the Devil and hope that people who followed them would retain enough of their souls on the other end. The men who followed Deng were not inspiring choices, mostly rather small men, at best competent technocrats busy balancing the various intra-party factions. Would they have made that choice but for the Cultural Revolution?

    Could it have gone on for another 30 years? Perhaps. But it would be very hard in the face of increasing Western opposition, aligned with a hostile Eastern Europe and China. The Soviet industry that was given away to oligarchs was outdated and uncompetitive. The Chinese had similar SOE industries that, while not sold off, took a decades and multiple cycles of painful change, to remake into something competitive and valuable (and indeed may still not be, without favorable state backing for loans and contracts).

    I don’t deny that Yeltsin was an utter disaster for Russia. And perhaps the choices made in the 1980s were already transparently bad ones. But I would extrapolate from the Chinese experience that the economic situation was pretty dire throughout the Communist world by that point, and there was no clearly good option on the ground. They may have sold out their security, equality, and patrimony for blue jeans, but it’s hard to know what one has to lose until it happens.

  7. Astrid


    I definitely see that narrative dominates all scenario happening in my working life. Nice sounding initiatives are rolled out with very little substance or forethought, expensive management consultants parachuted in to ask stupid questions and generate stupid spreadsheets and charts, and usually the natives are lucky if they can figure out workarounds to undo the damage within a year of the “successful” conclusion.

    With the current proliferation of woke-ness and evisceration of traditional gender and racial definitions, I wonder if we’ve moved on from even narrative control and into outright fanaticism. Sure, fanaticism that is currently channeled to distract from real problems and critiques of the current power structure, but fanatics can’t always be controlled, and right wing fanatics have guns.

  8. NR

    What are “traditional racial definitions?”

  9. StewartM

    Bruce Wilder

    Rather than try to control the production process (engineers do that) or product demand (salesman do that) or “the numbers” (the finance types), today’s hegemonic PMC is intent on controlling the narrative. That’s all you have to do, they think. Control the narrative.

    I would still argue it’s about “controlling the numbers” and the finance types are in charge. Controlling the numbers means choosing *which numbers* in a world filled with numbers are important and true, and which are not, and thus translates to controlling the narrative.

    This is as true in history as in anything else. As someone with an interest in WWII, what I see are the “Wehraboos” (i.e., enthusiasts obsessed with Nazi weapons and the German military) use very dubious or at least misleading numbers to claim Nazi superiority in prowess in arms. Here largely bogus numbers drive their narrative that makes it into TeeVee history and thus to the larger discourse.

  10. StewartM


    According to multiple sources, Gorbachev was interested in turning the USSR into a social democracy. He did not want to see it broken up and he remained a “socialist”:

    From Wikipedia

    Taubman nevertheless thought Gorbachev remained a socialist.[527] He described Gorbachev as “a true believer—not in the Soviet system as it functioned (or didn’t) in 1985 but in its potential to live up to what he deemed its original ideals.”[527] He added that “until the end, Gorbachev reiterated his belief in socialism, insisting that it wasn’t worthy of the name unless it was truly democratic.”[528] As Soviet leader, Gorbachev believed in incremental reform rather than a radical transformation;[529] he later referred to this as a “revolution by evolutionary means”.[529] Doder and Branson noted that over the course of the 1980s, his thought underwent a “radical evolution”.[530] Taubman noted that by 1989 or 1990, Gorbachev had transformed into a social democrat.

    Social democracy is now a bad thing?

    Yeltsin and Gorbachev were NOT on the same page. Gorbachev later supported Putin because he was anti-Yeltsin because of the damage that Yeltsin’s neoliberal policies allowed. Again, Wikipedia:

    Gorbachev had promised to refrain from criticizing Yeltsin while the latter pursued democratic reforms, but soon the two men were publicly criticizing each other again.[453] After Yeltsin’s decision to lift price caps generated massive inflation and plunged many Russians into poverty, Gorbachev openly criticized him, comparing the reform to Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization.[453] After pro-Yeltsin parties did poorly in the 1993 legislative election, Gorbachev called on him to resign.[454] In 1995, his foundation held a conference on “The Intelligentsia and Perestroika”. It was there that Gorbachev proposed to the Duma a law that would reduce many of the presidential powers established by Yeltsin’s 1993 constitution.[455] Gorbachev continued to defend perestroika but acknowledged that he had made tactical errors as Soviet leader.[451] While he still believed that Russia was undergoing a process of democratization, he concluded that it would take decades rather than years, as he had previously thought.[456]

    I’m interested at some point what Ian says, but from my perspective, the most one can criticize Gorbachev for are tactical errors, not errors in goals. BTW, Putin’s no hero either, as Putin has openly declared a return to “socialism” cannot be done.

  11. Willy

    Does it matter if Dear Leader is a certified grifter if he still demands a culture of results? It seems the current narrative that the aerospace industry in both the USA and USSR ticked up a notch after they captured a few little German scientists.

  12. bruce wilder

    Not sure I understand what you are trying to say, but I am tempted to call b.s. Responding to a pandemic should be like going to war, total war: war is the most bureaucratic/operational activity there is, incredibly complex, logistical but resting at the business end on adeptly devising and applying effective tactics. Imnsho, pandemic response failed from the get-go in multiple ways, but none was more important than the failure of “tactics” from simply not having technical competence in place at any level. Tests could not be devised or distributed, treatments could not evaluated, the importance of ventilation could not be recognized. The WHO and CDC did not have basic technical competence at any level. (Rant omitted.)

    I deal with university administrations lost in a virtual world of make-work — insanity!

  13. NL


    If I were to argue using popular on-line sources of information, I would go with Brittannica:

    “Yeltsin appears to have been an appointee of Gorbachev”

    “Under Andropov [Gorbie] had attended seminars by such radical scholars as Tatyana Zaslavskaya and Abel Aganbegyan. He accepted Zaslavskaya’s main point that the “command-administrative system” was dragging the country down and would ruin it if not dismantled.”

    “The problem was compounded by an apparent lack of clarity in Gorbachev’s own thinking. He was never able to construct a coherent goal and the means of reaching it.”

    ” Glasnost permitted non-Russian nationalities to voice their opposition to Russian and communist domination and led to a growth of nationalism and regionalism. … Interethnic strife and conflict intensified and sometimes resulted in bloodshed.”

    “The economic stagnation of the late Brezhnev era was the result of various factors: the exhaustion of easily available resources, especially raw materials, and the growing structural imbalance of the economy due to the distorting effects of the incentive system, which paralyzed initiative and dissuaded people from doing an honest day’s work. Under perestroika the economy moved from stagnation to crisis, and this deepened as time passed. Hence the policies of perestroika must carry much of the blame for the economic catastrophe that resulted. ”

    ” The only thing that was not in short supply was money. This was due to a rapidly growing budget deficit, first evident in 1987. … Responsibility for the budget deficit rested fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the Gorbachev leadership.”

    “Gorbachev received much advice on how to solve the Soviet Union’s economic crisis. There were two basic solutions: the socialist solution and the market solution. … One of the reasons Gorbachev shied away from the market was price liberalization. He would not risk sharp price rises because of the fear of social unrest. … Gorbachev paid only cursory attention to the economy until late 1989. A charitable explanation for this would be that he was concentrating on political reform. A less charitable one would be that he lacked the intellectual capacity to grasp the seriousness of the economic crisis. Gorbachev was never able to construct a viable economic policy or to put in place a mechanism for the implementation of economic policy.”

  14. NL


    The man was a loser and a mess without any strong principles, values or convictions or will power. He was never against market economy in principle:

    “Gorbachev could not make up his mind and always tried to persuade the two groups [socialist and market supporters] to pool their resources and arrive at a compromise. The radicals thought they had convinced Gorbachev in the autumn of 1990 to introduce a 500-day program that would have implemented a market economy, but he changed his mind and sided with the conservatives.”

    He just did not have enough resolve. Yelstin had. How could people who did not share the communist values rise to the pinnacle of communist party leadership? — Well, that the next level analysis that leads to an understanding why our political economy rooted in private leadership is so much more superior to the communist political economy.

  15. GlassHammer

    “Not sure I understand what you are trying to say, but I am tempted to call b.s. ”

    Okay… the team you assemble to resolve a crisis and the team you assemble to run an organization are two different teams with different talents, objectives, needs, and strategies. This is why companies and governments assemble crisis teams made of members from outside the day to day bureaucracy.

    In your war analogy, our initial plan (rely on the CDC’s strength) did not survive encounter with the enemy and we started from a losing position. Once that occurred the existing buracracy couldn’t get us back on track and we needed a crisis team.

    But since we didn’t assemble an honest to God Crisis team early and empower them (either due to the talent requirec being unavailable or the resources being frozen) we lost all the early battles and we are facing either a pyrrhic victory (best case scenario) or just a strait up defeat.

  16. NL

    @bruce wilder
    Sounds about right. And the process has not left science untouched. ‘Science’ is not the same science anymore… just look at disclosures upended to every manuscript by ‘big-shot’ ‘scientists’. Scientists are now businessmen in a gig economy of consulting and drug promotion; like everyone, they are rapidly learning how to do marketing and product placement but forgetting how to do science and their college material.

  17. Mark Pontin

    Bruce W. wrote: ‘Imnsho, pandemic response failed from the get-go in multiple ways, but none was more important than the failure of “tactics” from simply not having technical competence in place at any level. ‘

    I suspect that closer future investigation of the pandemic response will find that technically competent individuals WERE in place here and there in the administrative structure, and some DID speak up, calling for what would have more appropriate responses .

    At which point, their higher-ups ordered them to shut up for the sake of BAU; then, if those individuals continued to sound off, they were summarily suspended or discharged from their jobs.

    Such is human society. Even the Chinese, who eventually mounted a response commensurate with the pandemic, initially went after the lone medical doctor in Wuhan, Li Wenliang, who tried to warn the local authorities that a novel pathogen was loose and a pandemic in the offing.

    “Li Wenliang: ‘Wuhan whistleblower’ remembered one year on”

    Moreover, the CCP are predominantly drawn from people who have engineering backgrounds. In the West, by contrast, financiers, HBS types, and lawyer/grifters — people whose only professional competence is in neoliberal rent-extraction and parasitism — are at the top of the pole.

    Thus, in the West you get the likes of Anders Tegnall, the state “expert” epidemiologist in Sweden, promising that natural herd immunity will emerge if that country just lets the virus rip while continuing BAU. This, when anyone can open a Virology 101 text and discover in two minutes that NO natural herd immunity is possible from most of the coronaviruses.

  18. NL

    ” I do think that however Putin started, he’s not the West’s man anymore. ”

    I disagree that USSR economy was fully outdated, it was just different and had different culture. They had good space and aircraft technology, math and computational spheres were excellent. At least before the pandemic, our economy was 70% services — nails, food preparation, legal and financial products (read debt) — how’s that advanced. On top of that, we have allowed growth of low productivity sectors, like food delivery. This is worrisome. The Chinese communists seem to have chosen a different path just now by focusing on productive sectors (ie., semiconductors) and reducing/shutting down debt-selling (financial innovation), low-productivity and construction sectors. Russian economy is now much less competitive vis-a-vis almost any other major economy in the world – us, Europe, China, South Korea, Japan – than the USSR economy. Sure, sure, Russia sanctioned European cheese and started making their own, but cheese making does not make economy great.

    If I may turn philosophical a bit, to me life seems to be a sequence of crises interspersed by short periods of triumph and elation. People and nations live not because they do not have problems or crises but because they can solve these crises. Here’s an incomplete list of what we had to live through in recent years: 2008 real estate/financial crises, 2000 dot-com bubble, 1990 NAFTA and its consequences, 1985 trade deficit crisis/Plaza accord, 1970 energy/dollar crisis + many small and large wars.

    Putin is not West’ man, for now. He is a figurehead of an impotent oligarchy that has come to power during the Gorbie/Yeltsin calamitous years. It feeds on the achievements and resources accumulated by the Tsar’s Russia and then Soviet Union. It must be disturbing to the Putin’s fans that many of the people who implemented disastrous Yeltsin’s policies are still in power. Reading about nano, I recently stumbled on the much hated Anatoly Chubais, the privatizer of Soviet economy and implementer of markets under Yeltsin. Turns out, he had been the head of the state corporation called Rusnano for many years until he was finally let go by Putin in 2020. Putin and Co may resist submitting to us for now, but that’s just for now.

  19. bruce wilder


    I understand better the point you were making.

    You go to war with the army you have, not the one you wish you had. It isn’t Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney throwing up the barn in the morning to put on a show that night and rescue the town! Effective response to catastrophe is built from preparation. Plans better not dissolve on first contact with a long anticipated event, because winging it is not a realistic option.

    @ Mark Pontin It may well be that the culture in key parts of the CDC was hostile to “panic mode” — certainly inappropriate in an agency charged with panicking when necessary.

  20. Astrid


    I’m not particularly versed in Russia, so my understanding is largely an reflection of what I see in the Chinese. From that standpoint, the government of a large country has substantial investments in maintaining continuity, because minor breakdowns can have substantial ripple effects that are difficult to fix. The CPC politburo of the 1980s did not disown Mao even though many of them were purged and persecuted by Mao. They still haven’t and are now trying to re-mythologize Mao to make him a more positive historical figure. Even Xi’s semi-radical departure from the post-1976 consensus is phrased as implementing what Mao and Deng always wanted, once China was rich and strong enough. There’s a lot of assurances about not rocking the boat or going back to the bad old days.

    I may be attributing too much 11th dimensional chess to Putin, but I see him playing a difficult balancing game with the power base he started with. He appears to have surrounded himself with highly competent people on the foreign policy and defense front, and the Russian people seem far more prosperous and safe than they were 2 decades ago. Maybe they would be better off under the USSR, but the Communists continue to be very much a minority party so the Russians themselves don’t think so. Industrial policy is a challenging thing – the Germans and Japanese seemed to have managed, the Chinese did so but much of it was unattractive at the ground level. Perhaps Gorbachev and Putin both neglected it to Russia’s long term detriment. Or maybe Russia will be happy to be China’s Canada (with firepower to ensure it keeps getting a good deal). With the demographics of East Asia, I don’t see the great Siberia land grab coming from the Chinese, Japanese, or Koreans. Maybe they’ll try to resettle SEAsian climate refugees there…

    Mark Pontin,

    I wouldn’t go too far on the Li Wenliang story, especially one sourced from the BBC which has been found in clear lies WRT Xijiang and Hong Kong. The Chinese internet has always had lots of back alley stories on health scares, some more legit than others. Falunggong was promoted as a health qigong movement at one time. I know people who have wreaked their health through questionable herbal cures. These aren’t suppressed per se, but the government typically wants narrative control so that they’re seen as handling a situation well. So I’ve heard tons of stories about fake medicine, gutter oil, soap powder in breakfast foods, excessive pesticide in all produce, etc. It seems like these days, people feel like the Government is mostly handling these problems well, even if they continue to prefer imported medication, buy vegetable oils from reputable supermarkets, and are sure to wash all their produce very carefully.

    Li is a CPC member and he got a talk-to by the local police, but was allowed to return to his normal life where he unfortunately contracted COVID from a patient and died. He did not spread his information through reporting to the local authorities or media channels (there are some privately run media in China and they are typically allowed to report on a broader range of stories than the state media), who already knew. He went online and mentioned that it appears far more serious than what was reported. He might be a whistleblower but he wasn’t punished for being one. It was also highly unlikely that his reporting made any difference in how COVID was handled – what mattered was that Beijing saw the possible extent of person to person spread, they took the necessary actions to properly quarantine. I believe what happened was that the Wuhan/Hubei officials did not exercise proper precautionary principle and wishfully thought that it did not transmit person to person. They minimized it to prevent panic and allowed planned mass activities to happen.

    I’m not sure how I feel about how the Chinese government controls news, but it does not appear substantially more oppressive than what we see in the West (especially now that ASPI will be censoring Twitter). The Chinese I know (who happily traffic in back alley news and second guessing the government) believe that the state news hid or suppress bad news, but they don’t lie.

    I believe what happened was that the Wuhan/Hubei officials did not exercise proper precautionary principle and wishfully thought that it did not transmit person to person. They minimized it to prevent panic and allowed planned mass activities to happen. Once Beijing got wind of the possible extent of the person to person spread, they shut it down in a hurry.

  21. Astrid


    I’m thinking of the Latinx debacle. And defining any form of anti-Zionism as anti-Antisemitism and from there a quick skip to the Holocaust and Nazis, especially in Europe.

    Though rewriting of early modern and modern Chinese history on Uyghurs, Taiwanese, and Tibetans, by people who generally can’t even come up with a coherent definition for the Han ethnicity, do also come to mind.

  22. Z

    If the youth want to take a slug at this system, they better collectively refuse to pay back their student debt. That would also deservedly place President he/bipartisan Joe Biden in the spotlight for being one of the primary architects of the system that chains them with debt, someone who broke his campaign promises to relieve them of some of their debt, and who is also now ending the student debt payment moratorium.

    Biden has a long way to get to the bottom of his approval ratings. He doesn’t have a robust base that will him unconditionally support him that any of the previous presidents had and there’s not a president in recent history who is more deserving of the public’s cynicism the moment they took office than him.


  23. Astrid


    I came across this text describing China’s perceived course in the 1980s and 90s. While sheltering domestic industry is very much how European and America developed their economies, the conventional wisdom at the time and even now is that development required shocked therapy.

  24. Z

    Better yet they ought to protest in front of the Federal Reserve and demand that they pay off their student debt …

  25. Z

    The nearest thing that the working class has to a non-profit is called a union.

    Most of these so-called non-profits are champions for narrow causes. The founders keep the causes narrow IMO so that they can be used by the media to divide us. One of them representing Latinx women might do some research on wages of Hispanic women compared to white women and the NYZ Times will pick it up and anxiously run a front page story about it and then mention nary a word about a miner’s strike in Alabama.

    Mind you, also simply by having so many non-profits for narrow left wing causes competing for donors also has a divisive dynamic to working class causes.

    Probably all of the non-profits and left wing orgs are infiltrated by either agents for their funders … I’d imagine large funders have enough juice to get some of their people into leadership positions … or the Deep State, especially after the protests over these past few years. Some of the terrorism laws are so draconian that the Feds got a lot of leverage over people they arrest. Spray painting some militant language on a federal building probably can be canned into terrorism charges these days and the threat of long jail sentences. This goes for right wing orgs as well. Some of the top leaders of the Proud Boys were exposed as having been turned into FBI Informers.

    These leftist and non-profit organizations also can purposely sabotage a cause by the cynical use of misleading semanticism like “Defend the Police” instead of something more practical such as “Decrease the Police” which one would think would have been a more unifying and better understood choice of words. Then the media takes the phrase and amplifies it to brand a cause in a way that reflexively creates strong opposition to it.


  26. Z

    “Defund the Police” I meant to write above, not “Defend the Police”.

  27. Z

    I believe that some of these non-profits also pay to get onto certain platforms. I’d imagine it’s not illegal to. For instance I was under the impression that that MMT organization, which was a non-profit, that suddenly began running articles on Naked Capitalism a while back, and no longer … or rarely … does any more as far as I know, was paying NC to post there.

    I thought that NC even divulged that, but I could be wrong about it and might have surmised it incorrectly. It was a long time ago. I’d imagine at the very least they got to post their content on the site for free. Because I can’t imagine that Naked Capitalism would have paid them to post because I would not think that they brought a substantial amount of traffic to the site. But then why would NC even let them post for free? NC didn’t seem to be jonesing for content and why would they hire an organization to give them content that was so narrowly focused on MMT?


  28. bruce wilder

    I don’t follow the NC / MMT nexus closely, but I know that NC co-sponsored at least a couple of events with an MMT non-profit — maybe the one you are thinking of. At one time, Yves Smith was open to actively promoting MMT and Lambert Strether remains very enthusiastic about repeating certain tropes.

    MMT leadership has gone to some questionable gadflies and I do not imagine Yves Smith is exactly glad about it — she’s too sharp not to notice the lack of subtlety.

  29. Z

    It’s not like it would be unreasonable for folks with student debt to request that the Federal Reserve pay back their student loans. For one, the Fed’s policies have led to massive increase in housing prices. Their monetary policies have also provided a ton of cheap capital that’s led to consolidation in the rental housing market and they’ve provided support to the rental housing asset owners via their hooking up their money hose to Larry’s and Stanley’s Fun Factory BlackRock, which buys REITs with the money the Fed gave them. This has led many of the same folks who owe student debt to not be able to afford to buy a house and being charged higher rents.

    The Fed owes these young folks the most. The least the Fed could do after inflating the price of housing beyond their financial reach is relieve them of their student debt so that they might be able to save enough money to eventually afford to buy a house while they pay their rent.


  30. Z


    Yeah, I’d imagine that MMT organization paid to place their content on NC’s platform. I don’t see why NC would have given so much of their space for free to a group that primarily puts out MMT content; again it didn’t seem that NC was jonesing for content. I can see why the MMT non-profit would have wanted to use NC’s platform to post their articles, NC probably gets decent traffic and more than the MMT group can attract on their own website, but I don’t see that allowing so much of the content on the site to be dedicated to MMT did much to help NC’s traffic so I’d imagine NC wouldn’t have agreed to it unless they got paid some money from the MMT group.

    I’ve listened to some leftish podcasts that have had one of the MMT’s non-profit’s higher profile people on it and have noticed that they have given them an unusual amount of deference as well so it makes sense to me that the podcasts were getting paid to have them on. We’d love to have you on again …


  31. Ian Welsh

    Back when I ran The Agonist, I gave one union free space since I believed in their cause. Yves is pretty fanatically pro-MMT.

  32. Z

    There’s not anything necessarily wrong with sites getting paid to include non-profits’ content, if that’s the case, but the possibility is probably healthy to keep in mind before swallowing everything the non-profits say based upon any deference their hosts may give them. One of that MMT non-profit’s economists for instance has come out against taxes, something I’d imagine rich donors would be in favor of, and I’ve listened to one of their more high profile members be pumped by the likes of Peter Orszag and Bloomberg news. Peter Orszag is no friend of the Left, he’s a Rubinite through and through, and doesn’t exactly seem the open-minded type cruising the internet looking for alternative economic views. If he’s pointing towards a leftist economist and saying read them, I’m asking myself why?


  33. Z

    Not that I think that the MMT non-profit is greasing Peter Orszag’s or Bloomberg News’ palms. Those palms are probably much too large for the non-profit to fill enough to influence, just that when Peter Orszag and Bloomberg News pump a leftist economist and say read them, I get suspicious as to why. Obviously they must agree with them about something and I see little or nothing that pro-Wall Street Orszag and Bloomberg News’ want to change foundationally about our economic and financial systems that would benefit the working class.


  34. different clue

    The only way I can think of for students-in-general to stop or more plausibly slow down paying off their student loans would be to make the very least money they could possibly live on so as to have the very least money possible to either pay back from or for the establishment to brute-force steal. To do that, they would have to figure out how to move a significant part of their biophysical survival activity over into a world of barter and sharing ( not gig-working for uberlyft) and unmoney economics.

    They would have to starve and strangle the whole economy into torturing the ruling elites into addressing the issue.

  35. Charlie Dozen

    Mark Pontin –

    Thus, in the West you get the likes of Anders Tegnall, the state “expert” epidemiologist in Sweden, promising that natural herd immunity will emerge if that country just lets the virus rip while continuing BAU.

    Tegnell never promised any such thing, nor did he ever suggest a ”let it rip” policy. It’s a pretty bizarre fantasy of yours, given that Tegnell was the chief architect of Sweden’s corona policies, which were neither ”let it rip/BAU”, nor predicated on achieving herd immunity.

    As far as I know, the UK was the only Western country where the government seriously contemplated a ”let it rip” policy; they abandoned that idea very quickly when they were informed about the toll it would take.

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