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

Open Thread

Use for discussion unrelated to recent posts. No conversation primarily about Covid.


Covid and China’s Victory


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 9, 2022


  1. bruce wilder

    John Harris, a founder of, asks on the anniversary of the Jan 6 Capitol riot and the metaphor of civil war applied to American political divisiveness, “If this is a 21st century version of 19th century disunion, shouldn’t it be more obvious what the war, at bottom, is all about?”

    the chaos of the Trump years in one important respect — and perhaps only in one — is a historical anomaly. The country many times over has witnessed dissent and disruption far more violent than anything seen in recent years. But earlier episodes featured profound ideological and moral questions — easily visible to the naked eye, in the present and to historians afterward — that lay at the heart of the matter.

    The real Civil War was about slavery — at the start, to restrict its territorial expansion, by war’s end to eliminate it entirely. Capitalists opposed to the New Deal knew why they loathed FDR — he was fundamentally shifting the balance of power between public and private sectors — and FDR knew, too: “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.” The unrest of the 1960s was about ending segregation and stopping the Vietnam War.

    Only in recent years have we seen foundation-shaking political conflict — both sides believing the other would turn the United States into something unrecognizable — with no obvious and easily summarized root cause. What is the fundamental question that hangs in the balance between the people who hate Trump and what he stands for and the people who love Trump and hate those who hate him? This is less an ideological conflict than a psychological one.

    This all in support of the thesis that American politics has been transformed into an episode of Seinfeld, famously “a show about nothing”.

    I would love to find some reaction to this thesis on the Right — Tucker Carlson calling Harris out, if that was possible. The reaction I can find is only center and center-left. Kevin Drum, a centrist reactionary in my book, weighed in with some charts tracing trends more-or-less vaguely related to white male racial resentments. Kevin does not seem to realize that he’s exploring a thesis that is a projection of one side in this prospective “civil war” on the other side: in other words, half of the reciprocal contempt of blue for red and red for blue that John Harris notes.

    Lawyers, Guns and Money doesn’t disappoint though. Paul Campos declares, “Donald Trump’s Republican party is openly committed to transforming the United States of America into an authoritarian ethno-nationalist one-party state, featuring the kind of “managed democracy” you see in places like Russia and Hungary . . . .”

    Harris is acknowledging the “both sides believing the other would turn the United States into something unrecognizable” bit, so Campos is just demonstrating what Harris has noted — Campos is convinced that Trump is bound and determined to transform the country into “an authoritarian ethno-nationalist one-party state”.

    I think Campos is hysterical and choosing to be wrong in a way that hides his own loyalty to anti-democratic, corrupt forces.

    I still would like to see a similar statement from the Right: what nefarious transformation does the Right think the liberal Democrats are trying to foist upon us with Critical Race Theory and trans bathroom rights? — or whatever other form hysterical fears take?

  2. different clue

    @bruce wilder,

    If you want a highly literate description of what the “right” says it fears from the “left”, various posts and also comments and comment threads over at Colonel (Ret.) Pat Lang’s turcopolier blog ( used to be Sic Semper Tyrannis) will lay it out in plain easy-to-understand language.

    If you are genuinely interested to actually see what the “right’s” fear of what the “left” wants to do, that is the place to go find it.

  3. Z

    Pretty alpha of our rulers to order their subjects, particularly the younger generations, to find some way to deal with over $30T in national debt, over $20T of it that was tacked on since the 2008 financial crisis in order to reinstate our rulers’ wealth and power over us and to keep this wage-debt slave system that they impose on us intact, and then tell their subjects that “Nah, we’re not going to forgive your student debt, you got to pay that shit off too”. Oh, really …


  4. someofparts

    Well, this is left wing, but does strike me as a cogent explanation for the hysteria around 1/6. The position is that while the fuss over 1/6 genuinely is about nothing, like Seinfeld, the frenzy itself is calculated to cover the tracks of rulers who wish to do away with even more of our civil rights.

  5. someofparts

    I did find this post at The American Conservative, which, fwiw, is a good website.

  6. someofparts

    I forgot that on their 1/6 podcast, Krystal and Saagar had a lot to say about the melodrama of the day, which they mocked for being overwrought and narcissistic. Saagar is right wing, if that counts.

    Personally, I was surprised at how repulsed I was by all of it. What galled me was that while these spoiled crooks were whining about how awful the day was for them, they are consigning millions of Americans to all manner of horrific misfortunes because of their legislative corruption. They could not be more smug and dismissive of the horrors they are inflicting on millions who will have no choice but to suffer atrocious family hardships over a lifetime, thanks to them. Life expectancy in this country is in sharp decline, and these squalid phonies preen over nonsense.

  7. different clue


    Unless/until the forced-debtor classes, including students, can conquer the government from the Class Enemy which currently owns it, the only recourse the forced-debtors will have is to learn how to live so cheaply on so little that they can survive on too little income to be able to pay back any meaningful amount of the debt.

    Students, especially, could learn how to live on so little money as to never have money to pay back the debt, ever. But that would involve learning how to do some of their work and survival in the Free UnMarket CounterEconomy. And that would require millions of their parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, etc. being willing to let those students live in their houses for as nearly free as possible so those students and ex-students would be able to survive without having to make enough money to pay back any debt.

    It would be a whole society going on National Consumption Semi-Strike and moving its whole national existence over to National UnMoney Subsistence Survival as much as possible.

    it would be about Freezing the Earth all around the upper class in a last desperate hope of starving and depauperizing the upper class into extinction. Because they will never surrender. They will have to be financially exterminated or physically exterminated in order to relieve them of their debt-enforcing and debt-collecting power.

  8. Z

    I see some smart people are predicting that the financial markets are going to take a serious hit in 2022 because the Fed is trapped by inflation and hence has to cut back on their QE operations and raise interest rates. Maybe they are right. I hope they are, but I’m not as sure about that as some of them are.

    The Fed can still do plenty behind the scenes and under the table. They were forced by a court order to own up to providing tens of trillions of support to the markets during the 2008 crisis that they didn’t want to tell us about. You gotta figure that they’ve learned some new tricks since then.

    Wouldn’t it be wild if the liquidity pipe that the Fed has hooked straight into Larry’s and Stanley’s Asset Inflation Factory BlackRock isn’t metered? Ha ha ha. It really isn’t that far fetched that they could … and may … feed uncounted money directly into BlackRock to keep the markets frisky. That way they could pretend to draw down their balance sheet and raise the interest rates but still support the markets on the sly.

    Anyway, obviously I don’t know, but if next year at this time Wall Street is talking about the amazing resiliency of the markets even after the Fed ended QE and began raising interest rates then that’s where my suspicions will lay. BlackRock’s Stanley Fischer was the head of Israel’s central bank and then later the number two at the Fed when Yellen was running the show. I’d imagine that he’d know his way around the Fed’s portals.


  9. VietnamVet

    January 6, 2021 riot isn’t about left or right. The left in the USA is no more.

    2014 was the pivotal year. That is when the Empire restarted the Cold War with Russia and the American Dream died with the start of the declining life expectancy of Americans which elected Donald Trump. With the February 2020 failure to prevent the coronavirus pandemic, the lost dream turned into a nightmare. Life-expectancy is now in free-fall if the insurance report of the 40% increased death rate for workers in Indiana last year is true for all 50 states.

    Americans have been attacked by divide and conquer propaganda since the plutocrats re-seized power, terminated the New Deal, and the New World Order was cemented into place by Bill Clinton. Donald Trump was elected because he was the only alternative; similarly, Joe Biden. The choice is between rule by a nationalist oligarch or the global revolving door plutocracy – the Empire. Unless government by and for the people is restored, succession of states or a people’s revolution is guaranteed.

    A civil war between nuclear armed regional-ethnic (red, white and blue) states would destroy North America.

  10. Ché Pasa

    Harris’s thing at Politico is jejune. He knows what violent rebellion in the United States would ultimately be “about” and he doesn’t want to say because he’s part of that matrix.

    Bruce also isn’t going to get much of a rightist take on Harris’s thing because… that matrix, again.

    What has the “left” done to them? Nothing.

    That’s the problem.

  11. Z

    Speed Queen Nancy P, the current and future first transhuman Speaker of the House, was bragging the other day about some six million jobs being created during President he/bipartisan Biden’s first year in office.

    I’ve had an awful tough time buying into this Biden Boom. I just don’t see where these jobs are coming from in regards to economic activity. I’m assuming though that these “created” jobs are actually tied to job openings and not necessarily filled positions. I’ve suspected that many of these millions of job openings are bogus though and were being purposely posted so that business owners and corporations could cry to the government and their media mouthpieces about lazy U.S.ers not wanting to work to lay the grounds for the government to pull back on unemployment benefits and ratchet up the screws on the desperation of the working class so that they could be coaxed back into their patriotic duty of diving head first into the wood chipper to provide our rulers with low cost energy.

    One thing bothered me about my theory though: why hadn’t I read about a coordinated campaign by businesses and corporations to post these bogus job openings? There were so many of them, you’d imagine that there would be some sort of coordination involved and it would be difficult to impossible to keep something that large under wraps these days.

    Well, now I think I’ve found a more plausible explanation as to why all these job openings have come about: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud.

    Apparently, companies must maintain their entire workforce (head count) from when they got the loans in order to be eligible to have the PPP loan money forgiven, but if an employee left voluntarily during that period as long as the company at least makes an effort to fill the position they maintain their eligibility for loan forgiveness. So, that’s been leading to bogus job openings ($15/hr. jobs requiring a PhD and nonsense like that) that these companies don’t want to fill because they’d rather slim down on their payroll than fill the position and still have their loan forgiven. The Small Business Administration, which is administering the PPP program, isn’t likely to check the details of the job offers that are being used to game loan forgiveness and I’d imagine the application for forgiveness doesn’t require that level of proof either.

    Ryan Grim covers this bs in detail here:

    Twitter’s @LeftistMoniker deserves a ton of credit for exposing this scheme.


  12. Willy

    I’m starting to think that sometimes it really does only take one to fight. Or make it appear that it’s “just a fight”.

    FWIW, I posted as a nationalistic rationally-regulated-capitalist-centrist for years at certain right-wing sites. You know, a typical 1960’s Republican. Got called demonically possessed. Got cancelled. And worst of all, had to endure endless pithy little retort memes geared towards the simpleminded and faith based. God, I hate pithy little retort memes geared towards the simpleminded and faith based. Life’s far too complicated for that.

    If I didn’t know better, I’d think that something keeps moving that Overton window to the right. Successfully. I’d say big money, but what the hell do I know?

    So what does bruce think leftists have in common with “the right”, things which won’t get them cancelled?

  13. Mark Pontin

    The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of pyschopathology.

    — J.G. Ballard

    Not sure if the US qualifies as an advanced society. But otherwise Ballard probably had the most successful record of prediction of any SF writer since H.G. Wells. Being raised in a concentration camp would tend to strip away any illusions about the human animal.

  14. Mark Pontin

    Although, of course, you could argue that that’s how human societies have always been governed.

  15. bruce wilder

    What has the “left” done to them? Nothing.

    The real left? There is practically no such thing. So, yeah.

    The liberal “left” of the Democratic Party on the other hand? Nothing the liberals would own up to, certainly. As far as the liberals are concerned, the deplorables have no one to blame but themselves. The liberal (blue) view is anchored in the insistence that the Trumpian conservatives have no legitimate grievance. “Racism” (which by definition is illegitimate as well as reprehensible) explains Trump and Trump’s popular following and there is nothing else that needs be said or understood.

    The dark, ugly shadow cast by the liberal Democrats is not owned by Democrats — a common tactic is to simply deny any accusation and if that fails to impress, mischaracterize criticism to support a narrative of heroic Dems against racist conservatives. Ridicule is also popular.

    Dems lost in the Virginia Governor’s race recently. A couple of key controversies turned on events in Loudon County, a wealthy DC suburb, a very recent sexual assault case and a decade-old issue involving the novel, Beloved, as assigned reading. The Dem candidate, caught in the back-and-forth, hung himself with a gaffe suggesting that parents should leave school curriculum to the experts. The Dems’ anti-racism and woke ideology — the only credentials of their “leftism” — imho made it very hard to see the legitimacy of the grievances involved, handing a monopoly of concern to conservatives. Instead, the Dem propaganda machine denied that “Critical Race Theory” was a thing taught in Virginia schools –technically true but irrelevant when the Right is using CRT as a catch-all for “anti-racist” trainings gone looney and the liberal NY Times is promoting the 1619 Project as school curriculum.

    It seems to me that the fierceness of red-blue polarization turns not on a rooted difference of interest — as Harris noted; that is hard to find, though I would say, not as hard to find as to own — but turns instead on the unwillingness to emphasize and legitimate.

    The high moralism of the vestigial “leftism” of woke, antiracist, antisexist ideology spilling out of elite academies and used as a class marker of disdain for the precarious petite bougeoisie that make up the core of Trump’s support makes it hard to compromise in productive ways, hard to make common cause on issues tangential to those of social justice ideology and simply hard to empathize. It also makes it hard to persuade the “other” since the goal almost has to be religious conversion.

  16. GlassHammer

    Let’s see…. my local hospitals and EMS are overwhelmed, school district is about to be forced back to remote learning due to outbreaks, winter weather aggravated the weak supply chain so empty shelves are back, and some coworkers are now very sick.

    This is going to be a bad winter.

  17. Mark Pontin

    GlassHammer: ‘This is going to be a bad winter’

    Well, I have to confess that I’m out.

    After consideration of the likely stresses on the US “system” over the next few months, I boarded a plane at San Francisco Airport five days before Christmas, just ahead of the rash of cancelled flights, and, double-N95-masked and taking advantage of a UK passport, flew over to Old Blighty.

    I didn’t stay in London but have gone to ground in North England, in a town of 25,000 called Kendal, Cumbria, in the Lake District. This place —

    Somewhat boring and deep Olde England (I grew up in Jamaica, London, and the SF Bay Area), but sane and quiet. Out my window, I can see rolling green hills with a 12th century castle’s ruins on one of them, and the River Kent below. I plan to be here for the next six months so as to establish UK residence for purposes of qualifying for NHS services. And after six months, the contours of what’s happening next in the world will probably have emerged and I’ll have figured out what my next step is.

    To be continued.

  18. bruce wilder

    @dc I appreciate you reminding about Pat Lang. You are certainly correct that he has an old school view of the threat to the Republic posed by liberals and their plotting. Of course, one gets many hints that, in his considered view, treason in defense of slavery was at least arguable and somehow romantic. I got banned from commenting on his site, when I deconstructed his apology for the Armenian genocide as a last gasp of the Ottoman Empire rather than emergent from rising Turkish nationalism.

    @someofparts thanks for a range of good references — taibbi is a go-to ranter for me and though I do not make a habit of listening to Krystal and Saagar Breaking Points, they do resonate with me reliably. All three of your references are making a common point, which is that the liberal establishment in pushing so very hard on the “attempted coup” line with all the powers of fake outrage built into their Media Wurlitzer are making the political polarization much worse. I do not think they have succeeded in damaging Trump’s support in the Republican electorate one iota, but they have exacerbated things for the (former?) Republican establishment. And, they have raised the volume among both blue and red partisans.

    @Willy – Most people are not smart and they have opinions anyway, opinions they like and enjoy, like scented bath soap or a rockband or sportsteam tee-shirt — a cheap luxury. Years ago, a blog commenter put me on to Bob Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians. Altemeyer, though clearly concerned by the turn toward authoritarian politics in the U.S. (he’s Canadian), made two critical points based on his research.
    1.) the cluster of political attitudes associated with the psychology of people who might be identified as (“right”) authoritarian followers is not a psychopathology — those attitudes are on a loose continuum of normal and an authoritarian “psychology” is not itself a pathological extreme of that continuum.
    2.) extreme politics and violent political outcomes are a product of social sorting: if in a social group acting together, right authoritarian followers dominate the numbers, the collective behavior is likely to be paranoid and hostile.
    This second point seems critical to me in understanding the dangers of the continuing degeneracy of American politics. I think top-down corruption drives that degeneracy, but there really are big risks from isolating right-wing authoritarian followers whether that’s social media silos to generate clicks or the Democrats not wanting to betray their donors to help the working class.

    @VietnamVeteran – I agree: there is no “left” in the sense of a political grouping that would seek to represent and defend the interests of the “masses” against the depredations of the billionaires and global business monopolies.

  19. Z

    Mark Pontin,

    Good luck. Sounds like the life I’ve been dreaming of.


  20. bruce wilder

    What’s the cliché? “Be the solution!”

    For 20 years, throughout the crisis of a defunct neoliberalism / neoconservatism, the liberal Democratic Party has insisted on mirroring the conservative Republican Party, rather than opposing them. If you have your eyes open, you can see that the Democrats are insistently offering an expressway to the same authoritarian tyranny as the Republicans, with only a slight difference in the cast of spokesmodel politicians. The thinning bench of plausible Democratic politicians with a national profile — a consequence of retaining Congressional leaders into their dotage and the unwillingness to contest the control of most States — condemns the Democratic Party to probable irrelevance in the near-term.

    I actually do not expect “civil war” or anything like it. For one thing, I do not see how the fracturing of geography necessary for even a guerilla contest could come about. But, more important, I think the apparatus of authoritarian oppression is getting a technological boost that can only quiet effective opposition, peaceful and violent. The era of political and “random” violence in American politics and society is near its peak and will decline going forward. We are living a surveillance state. And, while the Media have distracted us with fairy tales of The Squad, the Democrats in Congress are now fully staffed with young members with background in the military, police and intelligence establishments and while conspicuously not-enacting Biden’s pathetic social-investment proposals and not-taxing the mega-wealthy or global business corporations, they have been authorizing what amounts to a complete lockdown of personal and household finance.

    The fantasies of crypto-currency enthusiasts concerning an escape from state scrutiny are as crazy and misplaced as QAnon conspiracy mongering. There will be no ready escape mode from the surveillance state in the near-term. Eventually, human beings will undermine it, with corruption within and passive-aggressive compliance without, as we always do, and to our own collective net detriment no doubt, as decadent elites choose negative-sum equilibria that leave them dominating an impoverished populace and decaying society. The near-future will be more of the recent-past, before it gets really bad.

    If there is anything like a “civil war”, it will be a continuation of the class war ongoing, and the violence will be the quiet violence of a tyranny made unimaginably effective by technologies of surveillance, communication and control, technologies that will only begin to fail to the extent that the principals do not understand the system they have built, and the agents building it prove unreliable.

    Right now, there is quite probably no path thru social media to organizing any kind of political opposition to these developments. Social media *is* the surveillance state and its noisy, polarized politics is kayfabe.

  21. Ché Pasa

    What if there were a real conflict between Left and Right in this country? Of course, that would require a real Left, and there isn’t one, but that aside…

    I think it’s taken for granted that there is a real Right, tending toward Christo-Fascism, and it is largely ascendant, though it sometimes pretends populist, libertarian or even leftist cred. Absent a real Left — which we haven’t had since the ’50s-early ’60s — what else is there?

    The so-called “left” (ie: the less overtly harsh branch of the ascendant Right) may taunt and/or hurt the feelings of the Rightists, but beyond that? Actual concrete moves that reduce, restrict, or remove its wealth and power? Nah. Nope, not at all. Isn’t it obvious why?

    All the whining about “wokeness” and “1619” and whatnot is quite simply designed to conceal what is really going on. It’s about power, who has it, who wields it, and what can or can’t be done with it.

    None of the whines of the Right matter a bit in the overall context of Power; they merely divert attention and are primarily media driven, anyway.

    If the Right ever genuinely lost power, there would be a vacuum. Who knows what would fill it? It wouldn’t be the non-existent Left.

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