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

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The US. Europe, China And the New Poorer Western World


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 10, 2022


  1. Trinity

    A few bad words are included, so skip this if that bothers you.

    Starbucks, groceries, “free” meta burritos, childhood poverty, and danger.

  2. Joe

    I just wanted to express this as amazingly I find myself surrounded by almost no one that gets this perspective.
    The boldness of the duplicity of the news networks has really sunk in with this latest round of “War reporting.”
    To witness the servile manor in which the outlets have lined up behind the “correct” message this time is truly sickening. Ever since we were forced to watch Ollie north’s puppy face lie all those years ago have i been this discusted. It is quite clear that freedom of thought is enemy number 1 here in the States and many other places. I think we are being set up to accept militarisms further rise. At this point to tell the truth is to interfere in elections. Soon it will be treason to even offer an alternative perspective to these propaganda outlets. I’m almost afraid to submit this comment.

  3. bruce wilder

    The latest IPCC report nears completion. They are predictably obtuse and pessimistic. I do not think I needed them to know nothing is being done. If they are at all informative, it may be in illustrating that no collective thought is taking place, complementing the inaction.

    I remember when I read the Crooked Timber blog and commented on the posts of Aussie economist, John Quiggin, that the concerns were basically about communication strategy: whether it was likely to be more effective to be alarmist or to take the line that relatively small shifts in allocation would change the trajectory.

    The formal and informal models favored by academic economists of mainstream repute were typically poorly conceived in fundamental ways. For a long time, it was the fashion to project global economic growth with a straight-edge over graph paper, assuming that growth rates from the anomaly of the industrial revolution would continue to 2100 and measures to reduce carbon additions to the active carbon cycle would “cost” only a tiny fraction of that growth. There was no attempt at backcasting, trying to understand the Industrial Revolution(s), analyzing the dynamics and sources, never mind appreciating the limits to growth.

    Quiggin was and is an earnest (left neo-)liberal in an American context, but there was never a hint in our interaction that the sheer stupidity revealed in the academic economics profession’s collective intellectual response to the challenges of resource depletion and ecological collapse might be a problem. He had insight. I got the term, “assimilation capacity” for the earth’s ability to cope with waste from him.

    I have rediscovered the Adam Curtis thesis that Bernays psycho-analytically inspired Public Relations propaganda created politics as it has emerged since 1970. Yves Smith linked to an essay by Michael Brenner at Consortium News that extended that rediscovery for me by defining the political Jerk.

    Jerks tend to be erratic in behavior, disjointed in their thinking, highly tolerant of inconsistency, unable to sustain a project and accident prone. They thrive in nihilistic and narcissistic societies like ours where embarrassment doesn’t exist. The jerk has a natural preference for a fluid decision process and ambiguous policy. For that spares him the need to discipline his own thoughts, to systematically weigh choices, and to make commitments to pursue a definite line of action.

    Brenner’s observations about how the jerks interact with the determined often psychopathic actors driving policy choices was insightful and closed a connection for me with the propaganda-enhanced narcissism Adam Curtis documents.

    How stupid are we? Individually or collectively. It seems like an increasingly critical question to answer.

  4. different clue

    @Bruce Wilder,

    You might also ask . . . how powerful are the stupid? How powerless are the smart?

    I will claim that I thought up in general terms a sort of “margin of pollutability” in those very words. I can’t make anyone believe me, of course.

  5. Lex

    We’re entering the “things fall apart” phase rather quickly. I don’t know enough about Pakistani politics to judge, but it sure looks like a half-baked destabilization plan that will likely blow back in dangerous ways. Palestine looks like it will fully ignite at some point.

    Visited with my retired farmer FIL this weekend. In the bread basket of MI (we have a massive and diverse agricultural sector, second only to California in diversity), things are bad. Nitrogen inputs are at $1,300+ per ton (pushing 4x normal), phosphorus inputs are simply unavailable, potassium is somewhat available but at the 4x normal cost levels. Confirmed orders of inputs are going unfulfilled. The other inputs like herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are mostly just not available at all.

    A full on collapse of the US’s industrial agriculture sector is a very real possibility. Most of these farmers borrow every season to plant. A year of failed / foreclosed farms is also a real possibility, and that will have extreme social and political consequences going into the midterms.

  6. KT Chong

    The West is too preoccupied with the Russia-Ukraine war to pay attention to the riots and revolts that are breaking out in Shanghai over the harsh lockdown because 25 million people are starving:

  7. bruce wilder

    @ dc

    the powerful can choose “teh stupid” as a kind of meta-strategy: paradoxically it can enhance their power vis a vis their subordinates and dependents.

    The powerful are powerful because they are positioned at the apex of social hierarchy from which they can direct concerted action by subordinate components of the hierarchy by instruction and promises of reward/penalty.

    In negotiating with subordinates, the apex is seriously handicapped: outnumbered of course and with vast but dubious information coming from below. People at the “bottom” or working face of the organization have intimate acquaintance with what is going on, immediate experience with “raw” unabstracted information before it becomes “data” and they select and process what they tell the boss. According to the plan laid out by the boss presumably, but still the first move, so to speak, belongs to the least among us.

    Ideally, we may suppose that critical information only emerges from aggregation and modeling at higher levels of abstraction. At the bottom, the workers have a narrow scope, no way of understanding from their specialized niche what the consequences of choosing a over b will be down the line. It is why science replaced craft in mass-production. But, the information flows are still problematic in the pyramid of domination and control: the gal at the top has the same 24 hours in a day as the guys at the bottom but there are hundreds of guys each with their own rich world and their own 24 hours and she must somehow process — incoming and outgoing — enough information to keep the many in sync with her plan. This is ideally accomplished by abstraction distilling and compressing information as statistics for the feedback and rules for the instruction.

    That’s the ideal. The real, not-so-ideal is power. There is a negotiation over the distribution of the surplus from successful social cooperation going on vertically in the socio-hierarchies in which political economy is organized. And in that negotiation, “stupid” becomes a multi-faceted means to power, a tool of leverage and a weapon. The boss who pretends not to understand that his rule contains a contradiction, an impossibility, can have his power enhanced as subordinates strive to do the impossible. People put in b.s. jobs are disempowered.

    One of the most powerful sets of disinformation are the theories of neoliberal economics that posit a “market economy” and distract from analyzing the reality of a political economy organized primarily around hierarchies. But that is my perennial complaint.

    My point here is the games of power have taken over and obscured the underlying “real” tasks and work and the necessity of organizing the real work productively and with an eye on consequences. Top-down manipulation and mobilization of public opinion in the West pre-occupies the ruling classes. Stupid — creating stupid and wielding stupid as a weapon and even assuming stupid as a protective cloak — have taken over the minds of not just our rulers but their staff, their professional assistants.

    I am half-convinced that very few in professional roles even question the ethics of how they fulfill their roles anymore. Do journalists worry about peddling lies and p.r.? Do auditors and accountants worry about their own integrity? Do doctors peddling prescriptions? Go back and watch the movie, The Big Short.

    The “machine” has taken over, gone on auto-pilot and most people are barely aware there is a machine. And we are witnessing its partial collapse.

  8. Z

    It was less than a month ago that warning bells were ringing from both poles of this planet with Antarctica 70 degrees above normal and the Arctic 50 above normal.

    My likely oversimplified thinking about the matter was that methane releases from the poles due to ice melts and ground thaws blew a hole in the ozone layers around the poles where one would think the methane might pool instead of being whipped around and dispersed as they might be nearer to the equator due to the physics of rotation.

    So what happened to that unusually intense heat? Did it leave the atmosphere or is it trapped?

    Well, here we are not a month later and already California is seeing record seasonal heat with some temperatures blasting through the previous highs by over ten degrees:

    CMA 99 (prev 86, 2003)
    LOX 98 (prev 85, 1938)

    Again, if we have temperatures that are even ten degrees above normal in some places there’s going to be some serious problems for the people there this summer not to mention to water levels, crops, and livestock. The methane releases have taken us way off linearity.


    Here’s a graph of methane levels in the atmosphere:

    The steady rise since 2006 or so correlates with the beginning of the rise of fracking.


    In regards to Lake Powell’s low water levels, a substantial amount of the U.S.’s semiconductor capacity is in AZ, specifically the Phoenix area, and those fabs require a lot of water to run. If those fabs would have to shut down due to lack of water that would be a negative for the economy, but might actually be a positive for the planet.


  9. different clue

    @Bruce Wilder,

    If only people at the lowest level “working-face” bases of many different pyramid hierarchies could somehow find a way to give and get information directly to and from eachother, so as to get an “inter-base” view of what is going on in the reality-spheres that the different bases of the different action-pyramids see and understand. I don’t know what would come of it, but something might.


    I remember reading that jet-stream weakening is allowing bunches of warm-moist mid-latitude maritime air to intrude deep into the polar zones in tight-focused places. The air would not be wildly over-warm in its natural habitat, but bunches of it are being allowed to move into polar regions whereas they would have been kept out by stronger jet streams until the very recent past. it could be the exact reciprocal of chunks of polar and sub-polar air moving far south of where they normally used to move. An Egyptian co-worker who keeps up with family and friends in Cairo very recently told me that Cairo has been experiencing a cooler winter than traditional experience would allow Cairenes to expect. And last year a Somali who works elsewhere in my workplace told me that Somalia has been having the kind of cold lately that Somalis in Somalia are just simply not prepared for because it has never been part of the “Somali experience” in Somalia before.

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