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

Today’s Center Is Yesterday’s Extreme

And tomorrow’s center will be today’s extreme.

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In the 1950s US, the top marginal tax rate was 91 percent. In 1925, the idea of such a rate was an extreme position. Today, it is an extreme position.

In 1935, the US had a small standing army and believed that was the way to be. After WWI, it had demobilized a huge army, but after WWII it chose to keep a large standing army.

Segregation was the normal position for much of the country before the 1960s; today it is theoretically illegal.

Women could not, effectively, hold most jobs in the 1950s; today they can. Married women couldn’t even have their own bank accounts without permission from their husbands; today they can.

Before the 1940s, almost no countries had universal health care, now virtually all developed countries (except the US) do.

Limited liability corporations didn’t exist throughout most of the history of capitalism, and were opposed by many capitalists when introduced; now they are the norm.

Most land was owned and managed by the commons for most of history; now, most of it is private land or government-owned. The idea that every local shouldn’t have access to local land and resources was EXTREME for almost all of human existence.

(Capitalism, generally speaking, is an extremely radical ideology when viewed through the lens of human history and pre-history.)

The center, of any period, is the extreme of a previous period. Truly, new ideas start from the extremes, then, when radicals win, they become centrist ideas. Adam Smith did not agree with the orthodoxy of his day, any more than Karl Marx did (though he had the advantage that he was championing a wealthy minority, not a poor one ,and thus didn’t live his life in poverty and misery like Marx.)

Confucius was an extremist who could not get hired by those in power. Jesus was an extremist. Muhammed was an extremist. Thomas Paine was an extremist. Luther was an extremist, and so was MLK.

The center does maintainance and refinement of ideas, but they have few if any truly new ideas. It is radicals who create new ideas, and centrists support them only afterwards.



Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – December 19, 2021


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  1. Keith in Modesto

    So, like the old man who plants a fruit tree whose benefits he knows he will not live to reap but that will nourish those who come later, we could be proposing and advocating radical ideas that can become the centrist ideas in decades to come.
    Anyone like to propose some radical ideas in this comment section? Ian already at a few, like reforming (or abolishing?) limited liability corporations, returning to having more (or most?) land being held and managed in common with widespread access, or greatly reducing the size of the US military (our “standing army”).
    I’ll suggest one: a public-funded campaign to establish and support the success of thousands of worker-owned coop businesses all across the country, with government support commensurate to that enjoyed by corporations though agencies like the Commerce Department and chambers of commerce. That would be rad.

  2. NL

    Can I post this as a public service:

    For Che and others. Here’s how you get through this pandemic:

    I buy N95 from Uline in bulk 300 respirators (15 cartons) at a time. It works out to less than a $1 per day for a fresh respirator everyday per person. The link is right here: . Where I live, Uline delivers in 1-2 days direct from their warehouse.

    These Uline respirators are a ‘manly’ man’s respirators. They are itchy and rough but are a very tight fit on my face and I can endure. Working without taking time for sickness is important to me (+ I perform mentally very challenging tasks and can not lose any IQ points to COVID even if I otherwise have no severe symptoms). If you are not into that, these Korean DOBU respirators are the softest thing you will ever find:

    They are as soft as a plush toy but a bit too small for me. Women and children love these respirators.

    We have tested close to a dozen of brands of respirators (blowing between 2-3K to purchase samples), and most were wanting in one aspect or another. LG health Patriot Mask ( just has this nasty plastic smell that I can’t stand but otherwise is rather sort and well-fitting. Some are willing to overlook the smell (or air the respirator for a couple of days before using it).

    I have a shelf on the inside side of my home door where I keep boxes of respirators. Before I step out I put one on always. On the outside side of my home door, I have a trash bag, when I come back, I put the respirator I have on in the trash bag. Always and everyday, by now it is an instinct, a reflex, like putting pants on. I also have special glasses but I wear those only in transit. I do not take the respirator off outside of home — never, so no eating in restaurants, no lunch, I also discourage and shut down any parties at work and minimally participate in parties or events thrown out by the superiors (which luckily the superiors seem to be on the same page) . When I get home, I wash hands and face, spray hair with 70% alcohol and change into home clothing. Too much you say, to me it is better than being sick, even mildly. I hate being sick, I am never sick, I don’t remember when I was sick last time. Plus, as I point above, what my colleagues and I do is intellectually taxing — any IQ point counts.

    If you have any question about a respirator, please let me know, maybe I have tried it.

  3. NL

    I should mention you can make 70% from Everclear, which is 75%:

    Luckily lots of it is available from a local liquor store.

  4. Soredemos

    I’d start with emulating Mao and killing all the rich, but hey, that’s just me.

  5. someofparts

    I read this post thinking that being someone who spends their life at home in the center sounds kind of restful and pleasant. What would it be like to be born perfectly content and accepting of everything, to fit in and agree with all the people around me. Sounds like it might be easier than being an outsider.

  6. Ché Pasa

    Interesting to witness the freakout by the anti-Dems and anti-vaxxers over the sternly worded reprimands by the White House of Manchin and the still unvaxxed.

    Oh the harshness! That won’t win any friends! They shouldn’t talk that way! Feelings are hurt, and when feelings are hurt, as we all know, the victims double down. Stop it! Leave the haters aloooooonnnnne!

    This never happens when the Rs and their fellow travelers are stern.


    Thanks to NL for pointing out an N95 source. Those of us who have the funds available should absolutely follow through.

    And Soredemos comment begs the question: why hasn’t it already happened? Assassinations and official murders of “leftists” and the lower orders are so common as to be routine.

    The rich and the high and mighty live on unmolested practically forever.

  7. NL

    Ché, we live in the richest country in the world. We are rich. Surely anyone who can afford equipment and connection to post comments here can also find less than a dollar a day for a respirator. It is really a matter of priorities.

    I am not as fascinated by the simulacrum of politics as some. Sorry. Don’t about any of that. But please keep on enjoying if it entertains you.

  8. Astrid

    If it’s picking between the evil of ULine (check the owner’s political activities) and Amazon, and general comfort and fit of the two styles, I would recommend 3M Auras that are available on Amazon for about $370 for a box of 440 masks.

    Not a fan of the fold in two respirators, they tend to have a poor seal up top.

  9. Astrid

    You might ask why the Feds can afford to push for endless rounds of vaccinations and mandates and monoclonal treatments (at thousands per treatment course) but can’t send $20 boxes of N95 to every person in the land. Or if they care about vaccination so much, how about just giving $1,000 to everybody who got their second shot and $500 for boosters? Instant stimulus and will do a lot more for compliance than shaming and forcing people out of work.

  10. Jim Harmon


    Nah, I’ll stick with FDR, thank you very much.

  11. Occasional Poster


    If your revolution is based primarily on killing this or that group of people it will almost certainly make a bad situation worse.

    Thinking of politics in terms of individual actions is understandable if you’ve grown up in an individualistic culture under a system that promotes competition among and between individuals. But, like trying to reform baked in corruption and racism in police departments by getting rid of a few “bad apples”, purging society of “bad” people while leaving the underlying structures intact is bound to fail.

    Capitalism, or neoliberalism, is a system and systems are designed to survive the elimination of individuals within it. Think of a reptile that can regrow its tail after its chopped off or a respawning video game monster.

    Some people will say “but look at the French Revolution. They killed the aristocracy and it was bloody and chaotic and there were major setbacks but at the end of it secular liberal democracy emerged!”

    Yes, but they had a vision of a new society in mind and a framework to underpin it. They didn’t just blindly slaughter the rich and the royal and hope that something better will emerge spontaneously.

    America, and even Europe now, is obsessed with sadistic violence and using violence to destroy “bad guys.” I was struck by how much longer and more graphic depictions of violence and torture in TV and Netflix shows have become. Shows produced prior to the mid-2000s still left some things to the imagination.

    Today every detail is shown in glorious 4K HDR. Long, drawn out scenes of a person being brutally raped, slowly being tortured to death or crawling around bleeding and half-dead as they are pulped by .50 machine gun rounds are unremarkable.

    Relatable characters being compelled to murder “bad guys” in cold blood as a grim but inevitable right of passage is pretty standard fare these days. Even psychopaths are portrayed with sympathy – they are just “different” but still worthy of respect, no different than your buddy with Asperger syndrome.

    The BBC ran a series in 2019 in which a Japanese gangster and his cop brother go to London and engage in a killing spree in part to avenge their “honor.” The takeaway was that honor is a big thing in Japanese culture so don’t be too mad at these guys. The narcissistic gay prostitute character runs a guy over with his car and flees the scene. This is forgiven by the British cop lead because dude had a rough life and a troubled childhood. (It’s also remarkable how often POC and LGBT characters are portrayed as walking cliches and stereotypes, but I digress.)

    It used to be that characters like Dirty Harry and John Rambo and the guy Bruce Willis plays in all his films did most of the gratuitous slaughtering (always for a noble cause of course). But since 9/11 violence in popular culture has been democratized. Killing and torturing isn’t just for action movie heroes anymore. And when violence is shown on screen it is often depicted in pornographic detail.

    In a highly individualistic and unequal society that is obsessed with violent death I wouldn’t want to be around when the killing begins. Today it’s kill the rich Tuesday and…and tomorrow it’s kill the killers of the rich Wednesday. On Thursday we kill the unvaxed and on Friday the vaxed. On Saturday…

    If your “solution” to an unjust society involves mass murder you might want to turn off the TV, put down the video game controller and take a walk in the woods to think things over before committing to that line or action.

  12. Astrid

    Spouse pulled the plug on our holiday plans today. We just can’t trust every family member and friend’s careful is careful enough to unmask and break bread with.

    Maybe we can see them at Easter if things are quieter by then. Or it will be Pi or Omega by then. At this point we are back to hermiting with curbside grocery pickup for the rest of winter.

    2021 felt like it didn’t even exist. Days melted into weeks into seasons into nothing. What 2022 going to be like?

  13. Jim Harmon

    @Occasional Poster,

    Natalie Merchant’s Candy Everybody Wants is a fine musical explanation of this phenomenon.

    If lust and hate is the candy
    if blood and love tastes so sweet
    Then we
    Give ’em what they want

  14. Ché Pasa

    Ché, we live in the richest country in the world. We are rich.

    Surprising number of the folks we know around here live on around $1000 a month — Social Security, SSI, Disability, that sort of thing. Rich? I suppose — by 3rd or 4th world standards. They don’t have computers, wifi, broadband, cable and such. Can’t afford it among other reasons. Whatever internet connections they can manage are through their cell phones. Yes, they (mostly) have those.

    The question of priorities is ever present. Is it to be food this month or paying rent, getting the car (sort of) fixed up or pay the dentist? Nah, the electric is about to be shut off, better pay that.

    People on the margins like this do not have the option to fork out several hundred dollars at one time on supplies of masks or CSA subscriptions or what have you. They don’t have the money or access to credit to do this kind of thing.

    It’s hard for people living in comfort to comprehend just what sort of stresses and limitations there are on people living in poverty. Saying “we are rich” is an absurdity when so many of us are not, not even close.

    Yes, why hasn’t the government sent boxes of N95s to everyone? Why didn’t it happen at the outset of the pandemic? Why isn’t it happening now?

    At some point, these and other questions answer themselves: the policy is not to do for people what they are supposed to be doing for themselves as individuals… it’s ideological and cross-party. If they can’t do it for themselves for whatever reason, then too fucking bad for them. May they perish quickly and unmourned.

    This is your government. They will provide testing, vaccines, spotty cash, and often incoherent advice. Beyond that, you’re on your own, suckers.

    Changing it requires a hell of a lot more than periodic voting and railing about the awfulness of one or the other party ostensibly in power.

  15. Astrid


    You can buy much smaller quantities for less money, search around. I linked to the case price because it’s about half the unit price of buying smaller quantities and I feel they are much better than the other two prevalent styles of N95 masks for comfort and seal. The other links are for smaller case prices. But doesn’t matter which one, I suggest you buy some N95 ASAP just in case of shortage.

    And buying a large amount as a group and divvying out is an option, just like incremental payment for CSAs and splitting up CSA shares is an option. Unlike many people around the world in day laborer economies who can’t eat Friday if they don’t work today, even poor working class Americans fretting about their unsafe work environment can afford the less than dollar a day cost of a N95 (and I get multiple wears by throwing them in a trash bag in the car to age them for a week between wears). And poor people these days do have cell phones (public library is probably too unsafe for online purchases) though access to credit are potentially a far bigger stumbling blocks.

    Since the terrible government we have can’t protect you or me, you are going to have to decide on your priorities. Shaming people for suggesting affordable and effective means of protection isn’t going to help you. I bought that case mostly to gift to family and friends, now I can’t even go see them because of Omicron.

  16. Stormcrow


    You may find the straps on the 3M 9205 Auras you’re using will stretch quickly enough to make the seal questionable after less then 4 or 5 don/doff cycles. That’s what I learned the hard way a couple of weeks ago.
    3M offers three grades of Auras; the 9205s are the lowest grade. The mid-grade mask is the 9210. The highest grade doesn’t offer any advantage to anyone who’s not a doctor or a nurse; what makes them “top grade” is their moisture resistance.
    But the “middle grade”, the 3M 9210, has straps made of braided elastic, like the sort of material you’d find on the waistband of a pair of shorts. I’ve found this to significantly improve the practical service lifetime of the mask, which reportedly is about 40 hours maximum in a non-clinical environment.
    You can find these at a number of sources on the Internet. The only major caveat is to avoid Amazon since they commingle suppliers without informing the customer. Odds of ending up with counterfeits become unacceptable in a product you’re literally trusting your life to.
    I got the ones I use from an outfit called “Industrial Safety Products”. They run to about $30 per 20 masks.

  17. Soredemos

    @Jim Harmon

    The Democrats have already killed any possibility of that. Twice. Good luck with your future electoral endeavours.

    @Occasional Poster

    I’m not talking about killing just individuals. I’m talking about purging entire social classes. ‘Purge’ doesn’t have to mean killing, but in many cases it’s inevitable. The Russian Revolution had to fight an entire civil war to survive. The CCP had to fight a civil war (which they won because they had popular legitimacy, in no small part from leading the fight against the Japanese, in a way that the fantastically corrupt Kuomintang never had) and then went on to murder land lords in their millions. And China was on the whole better off without those landlords.

    Class warfare isn’t a metaphor.

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