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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 30, 2023

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

America Fails the Civilization Test

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 4-23-2023]

The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive?

For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress.

How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia….

According to data collected by Burn-Murdoch, a typical American baby is about 1.8 times more likely to die in her first year than the average infant from a group of similarly rich countries….

GRAPH: U.S. annual mortality rate as a multiple of similarly rich countries

By the time an American turns 18, the U.S. death ratio surges to 2.8. By 29, the U.S. death ratio rockets to its peak of 4.22, meaning that the typical American is more than four times more likely to die than the average resident in our basket of high-income nations. In direct country-to-country comparisons, the ratio is even higher. The average American my age, in his mid-to-late 30s, is roughly six times more likely to die in the next year than his counterpart in Switzerland.

The False Choice Between Neoliberalism and Interventionism 

Yuen Yuen Ang [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2023]

To some commentators, the recent passage of the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, US President Joe Biden’s two signature industrial policies, marks the end of neoliberalism and the re-emergence of interventionism as the dominant paradigm.

But this is a false dichotomy. Governments are not limited to a binary choice between laissez-faire and top-down planning. A third option, long-neglected by policymakers and economists, is for governments to direct bottom-up processes of improvisation and creativity, akin to the role of an orchestra conductor. One can find plenty of examples of this in China and the US….

In defiance of Western prescriptions, Japan and the four “Asian tigers” – Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan – opted for massive government intervention. By crafting long-term plans, investing in public infrastructure, and selecting and promoting potentially successful industries with favorable policies, all of them achieved extraordinary economic growth between the 1960s and the 1990s. Proponents of the model underlying the “East Asian Miracle” criticized the Washington Consensus for ignoring the indispensable role of governments in late-developing economies.

[TW: Actually, it’s not a false choice—There Is No Choice. Either we jettison neoliberalism and its pagan worship of markets, or we continue to fail the Civilization Test. ]


The empty basket

Ha-Joon Chang [Aeon, via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2023]

[TW: Chang is a South Korean economist and author of Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective (2002), Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism  (2008), and 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism (2011), all books I highly recommend for their ruthless critique of mainstream economic thinking.]

…neoclassical economics is today so dominant in most countries (Japan and Brazil, and, to a lesser extent, Italy and Turkey are exceptions) that the term ‘economics’ has – for many – become synonymous with ‘neoclassical economics’. This intellectual ‘monocropping’ has narrowed the intellectual gene pool of the subject. Few neoclassical economists (that is, the vast majority of economists today) even acknowledge the existence, never mind the intellectual merits, of other schools. Those who do, assert the other varieties to be inferior. Some ideas, like those of the Marxist school, they will argue, are ‘not even economics’….

Some readers may legitimately ask: why should I care if a bunch of academics become narrow-minded and engage in intellectual monocropping? However, you should all care, because, like it or not, economics has become the language of power. You cannot change the world without understanding it. In fact, I think that, in a capitalist economy, democracy cannot function effectively without all citizens understanding at least some economics. These days, with the dominance of market-oriented economics, even decisions about non-economic issues (such as health, education, literature or the arts) are dominated by economic logic….

…economics doesn’t just influence economic variables, whether personal or collective. It changes who we are.

Economics shapes us in two ways. First, it creates ideas: different economic theories assume different qualities to be at the essence of human nature, so the prevailing economic theory forms cultural norms about what people see as ‘natural’ and ‘human nature’. The dominance in the last few decades of neoclassical economics, which assumes that human beings are selfish, has normalised self-seeking behaviour. People who act in an altruistic way are derided as ‘suckers’ or are suspected of having some (selfish) ulterior motives. Were behaviouralist or institutionalist economic theories dominant, we would believe that human beings have complex motivations, of which self-seeking is only one of many; in these views, different designs of society can bring out varying motivations and even shape people’s motivations in diverse ways. In other words, economics affects what people see as normal, how people view each other, and what behaviour people exhibit to fit in.

Economics also influences who we are by affecting the way the economy develops and thus the way we live and work, which in turn shapes us. For example, different economic theories offer contrasting views on whether developing countries should promote industrialisation through public policy intervention. Different degrees of industrialisation, in turn, produce a variety of types of individuals. For example, compared with those who live in agrarian societies, people who live in more industrialised countries tend to be better at time-keeping, as their work – and consequently the rest of their lives – is organised according to the clock. Industrialisation also promotes trade union movements by amassing large numbers of workers in factories where they also need to cooperate much more closely with each other than in farms. These movements in turn create centre-Left political parties that push for more egalitarian policies, which may be weakened but do not disappear even when factories disappear, as has happened in most rich countries in the past few decades.

We can go further and assert that economics influences the kind of society we have. First, by shaping individuals differently, varying economic theories make societies of contrasting types. Thus, an economic theory that encourages industrialisation will lead to a society with more forces pushing for more egalitarian policies, as explained above. For another example, an economic theory that believes humans to be (almost) exclusively driven by self-interest will create a society where cooperation is more difficult. Second, different economic theories have different views on where the boundary of the ‘economic sphere’ should lie. So, if an economic theory recommends privatisation of what many consider to be essential services – healthcare, education, water, public transport, electricity and housing, for example – it is recommending that the market logic of ‘one-dollar-one-vote’ should be expanded against the democratic logic of ‘one-person-one-vote’. Finally, economic theories represent contrasting impacts on economic variables, such as inequality (of income or wealth) or economic rights (labour vs capital, consumer vs producer). Differences in these variables, in turn, influence how much conflict exists in society: greater income inequality or fewer labour rights generate not just more clashes between the powerful and those under them but also more conflicts among the less privileged, as they fight over the dwindling piece of pie available to them.

Understood like this, economics affects us in many more fundamental ways…


Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class:  An Economic Study of Institutions (1899) pdf

Chapter 8: Industrial Exemption and Conservatism 

The development of these institutions is the development of society. The institutions are, in substance, prevalent habits of thought with respect to particular relations and particular functions of the individual and of the community; and the scheme of life, which is made up of the aggregate of institutions in force at a given time or at a given point in the development of any society, may, on the psychological side, be broadly characterized as a prevalent spiritual attitude or a prevalent theory of life. As regards its generic features, this spiritual attitude or theory of life is in the last analysis reducible to terms of a prevalent type of character.

Chapter 9: The Conservation of Archaic Traits

The collective interests of any modern community center in industrial efficiency. The individual is serviceable for the ends of the community somewhat in proportion to his efficiency in the productive employments vulgarly so called. This collective interest is best served by honesty, diligence, peacefulness, good-will, an absence of self-seeking, and an habitual recognition and apprehension of causal sequence, without admixture of animistic belief and without a sense of dependence on any preternatural intervention in the course of events….

The successful working of a modern industrial community is best secured where these traits concur, and it is attained in the degree in which the human material is characterized by their possession. Their presence in some measure is required in order to have a tolerable adjustment to the circumstances of the modern industrial situation. The complex, comprehensive. essentially peaceable, and highly organized mechanism of the modern industrial community works to the best advantage when these traits, or most of them, are present in the highest practicable degree. These traits are present in a markedly less degree in the man of the predatory type than is useful for the purposes of the modern collective life.

On the other hand, the immediate interest of the individual under the competitive regime is best served by shrewd trading and unscrupulous management. The characteristics named above as serving the interests of the community are disserviceable to the individual, rather than otherwise.


Henry C. Carey, The Unity of Law: As Exhibited in the Relations of Physical, Social, Mental, and Moral Science (1872) pdf

Looking now to the early man, as he is being exhibited to us by geologists, we see him to have been almost wholly powerless in face of the wonderful forces in whose presence he had been placed. Tracing him thence onward, we find him gradually obtaining power for their direction, until at length he is enabled to compel light and heat, steam and electricity, to perform labors that would have required the united efforts of hundreds, if not even thousands, of millions of unassisted men. At each and every stage of progress the force thus converted to his use becomes part and parcel of himself; his various faculties absorbing their several portions, and the man of power coming gradually on the stage prepared to direct the already acquired force to further development of the yet latent powers of the earth, and further conversion thereof to his own use and service. As numbers increase, men are more and more enabled to combine together, and at each such stage their faculties become more and more strengthened for absorption of further aliment [provide with nourishment and sustenance]….

Looking around, however, we see that throughout by very far the largest portion of the earth there exists little but poverty and wretchedness among the millions, selfishness, extravagance, and waste among those by whom their movements are directed; the rich becoming richer, and the poor poorer, from year to year. As a consequence of this, the world at large presents for observation little beyond a.constant series of wars, rebellions, and revolutions, with terrific waste of mental and physical force; of property and of life.

Seeking now to understand the cause of a state of things so sad and so destructive, the inquirer looks naturally for information to the works of leaders of opinion in that country which claims to follow in the footsteps of Adam Smith; there to find, however, little beyond the assertions, that their science is limited to the consideration of material wealth alone\ to the entire exclusion of mind and morals, skill and taste; that buying and selling constitute the chief end and aim of life; that to enable capital to obtain proper remuneration, labor must be kept down…. Need we now wonder that a system so thoroughly materialistic should have given rise to a school from which we learn, that “survival of the fittest,” and crushing out of those less “fitted,” constitute the bases of all natural arrangements for promoting advance in civilization [?]…

“Preface,” pp. xv-xx.


Ideas that are just plain wrong

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2023]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Michael Hudson — Democratic Liberty Versus Oligarchic Liberty—Part 2: Debt and the Collapse of Antiquity

[via Mike Norman Economics, April 28, 2023]

In part two, Michael Hudson discusses his new book “The Collapse of Antiquity.” Hudson challenges the traditional beliefs about the fall of the Roman Empire, arguing that it was caused by a financial crisis brought on by excessive debt, wealth inequality, and the concentration of economic power. Hudson draws parallels to modern-day economies and highlights the dangers of financialization and wealth concentration….

America’s Industrial Transition 

[Apricitas Economics, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2023]

…However, that initial shock was nearly three years ago at this point—consumers are no longer homebound, have been spending much more money on services, and have diminished need for manufactured goods given all the demand pulled forward during the early pandemic. Supply chains, although still suffering, have received some time to heal—and real consumption of goods has stagnated for nearly two full years.

Those conditions have caused a major slowdown in the goods-related sectors of America’s economy—output is stalling, hiring has slowed down, and capital expenditure plans are being wound back. Even related industries like warehousing and truck transportation are struggling. Growth in US manufacturing production has declined substantially, with output actually shrinking slightly over the last year while still remaining below 2018 levels in aggregate.

How will we know if the US economy is in a recession?

[Associated Press,via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-27-2023]

“The government’s report Thursday that the economy grew at a 1.1% annual rate last quarter signaled that one of the most-anticipated recessions in recent U.S. history has yet to arrive. Many economists, though, still expect a recession to hit as soon as the current April-June quarter — or soon thereafter. The economy’s expansion in the first three months of the year was driven mostly by healthy consumer spending, yet shoppers turned more cautious toward the end of the quarter. Businesses also cut their spending on equipment, a trend that has continued. The list of obstacles the economy faces keeps growing. The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate nine times in the past year to the highest level in 17 years, thereby elevating the cost of borrowing for consumers and businesses. Inflation has eased slowly but steadily in response. Yet price increases are still persistently high. And last month the collapse of two large banks resulted in a whole new threat: A pullback in lending by the financial system that could weaken growth even further. A report on business conditions by the Fed this month found that banks were tightening credit to preserve capital, which makes it harder for companies to borrow and expand. Fed economists are forecasting a ‘mild recession’ for later this year. Six months of economic decline are a long-held informal definition of a recession. Yet nothing is simple in a post-pandemic economy in which growth was negative in the first half of last year but the job market remained robust, with ultra-low unemployment and healthy levels of hiring.”

America’s Workplace Safety Crisis

Terri Gerstein, April 28, 2023 [The American Prospect]


Of Birds and Men: DuPont, Corporate Penalties and the Law

[Confined Space, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-27-2023]

“Just over 18 years ago, I wrote a post entitled ‘Of Fish and Men’ where I observed that ‘The penalty for killing fish and crabs is far higher than the penalty for killing a worker.’ That post recounted a 2001 chemical tank explosion at a Motiva refinery in Delaware City, Delaware, where Motiva employee Jeffrey Davis was killed. Davis’s body was dissolved in sulphuric acid that spilled from the tank. Only the steel shanks of his boots were found. OSHA issued a $175,000 OSHA fine against Motiva for violations of the Process Safety Management Standard, which at that time was far higher than normal OSHA penalties for killing workers. EPA, on the other hand, fined Motiva $12 million because spent sulfuric acid from the tank spilled into the Delaware River, resulting in thousands of dead fish and crabs. EPA’s penalty was almost 70 times higher than the OSHA penalty. Almost two decades later, things aren’t much better…. Yesterday, EPA announced a $23 million fine against DuPont after a toxic release killed four employees in 2015 at the Dupont plant in La Porte, Texas…. DuPont’s main crime: violation of the Clean Air Act…. Meanwhile, OSHA had fined the company $99,000 (later raised to $106,000) for the four fatalities: one repeat and several serious violations of the Process Safety Management standard.”

Income Tax Withholding Payments Stumble Again, Signaling Job Weakness. Will the Fed Start to Consider Backing Off?

NewDealdemocrat, April 25, 2023 [Angry Bear]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2023]


They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

A House Divided: How a Band of Speculators Seized Deeds of Black-Owned Brooklyn Brownstones

[The City, via The Big Picture 4-23-2023]

A quartet of investors say they’re only helping the dispossessed get what’s due. But their actions have exploited family divisions — and relatives on both sides of the deals say they’ve been ripped off.

Banks that Put Up $30 Billion to “Rescue” First Republic May Have Been Trying to Rescue their Own Exposure to $247 Trillion in Derivatives

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, April 27, 2023 [Wall Street on Parade]

Ever since 11 banks on March 16 donned the garb of heroic fire fighters, rushing to extinguish an inferno at a competitor bank before it spread further, we have been asking ourselves the question – why just this group of 11 banks.

We’re talking about the action on March 16 when 11 banks chipped in a total of $30 billion and bizarrely placed those funds as uninsured deposits into First Republic Bank – which was in full scale unraveling mode because of bond losses and – wait for it – too many uninsured deposits. Four banks contributed two-thirds of the total deposits with JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo ponying up $5 billion each. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs deposited $2.5 billion each; while BNY Mellon, State Street, PNC Bank, Truist and U.S. Bank each deposited $1 billion, together making up the other one-third of the $30 billion.…

Yesterday, we had an epiphany. We pulled up the most recent table from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency showing the 25 bank holding companies that have the largest exposure to derivatives. Sure enough, each of those 11 banks is on the list. (See page 19 at this link.) The data is as of December 31, 2022.

Equally noteworthy, the four banks that chipped in the giant sums of $5 billion each, control 58 percent of the total $247 trillion notional (face amount) in derivatives controlled by all 25 banks.

Plunder: Private Equity’s Plan to Pillage America

Rob Johnson interview of Brendan Ballou [Institute for New Economic Thinking, via Naked Capitalism 4-29-2023]


Restoring balance to the economy

The Thing That’s Made the Union Strong Is to Privilege the Lowest Paid

[FAIR, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2023]


Making the right noises: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s speech at the Brookings Institution

[The White House, April 27, 2023]

…First, America’s industrial base had been hollowed out.

The vision of public investment that had energized the American project in the postwar years—and indeed for much of our history—had faded.  It had given way to a set of ideas that championed tax cutting and deregulation, privatization over public action, and trade liberalization as an end in itself.

There was one assumption at the heart of all of this policy: that markets always allocate capital productively and efficiently….

Here, the prevailing assumption was that trade-enabled growth would be inclusive growth—that the gains of trade would end up getting broadly shared within nations. But the fact is that those gains failed to reach a lot of working people.  The American middle class lost ground while the wealthy did better than ever.  And American manufacturing communities were hollowed out while cutting-edge industries moved to metropolitan areas.

Now, the drivers of economic inequality—as many of you know even better than I—are complex, and they include structural challenges like the digital revolution.  But key among these drivers are decades of trickle-down economic policies—policies like regressive tax cuts, deep cuts to public investment, unchecked corporate concentration, and active measures to undermine the labor movement that initially built the American middle class.

[TW: Sullivan mentions the problem of “regressive tax cuts” but he does not focus on it. He spent most of his time discussing the failure of trade policies over the past half century, and the need to defend and strengthen a “fair” world trade system.

This is a mistake.  Deficits and the debt are mostly the result of Republican tax cuts since Reagan. This graph is very clear (original image from

After Reagan and the (anti)Republicans halved the top marginal tax rate from 73% to 28% in 1981, the national debt skyrocketed.

A month ago, the Center for American Progress posted Tax Cuts Are Primarily Responsible for the Increasing Debt Ratio, which includes a graph which very helpfully breaks out the effects of the Brush tax cuts, and the Trump tax cuts, from the debt incurred managing the Global Financial Crisis, then COVID. (The graph is about 2/3 of the way down in the online article).

One trend that conservatives, libertarians, and (anti)Republicans very studiously ignore is that their tax cuts failed to deliver on their promise that economic growth would accelerate. This boost in economic activity, they promised, would also result in a boost in tax collections. The Heritage Foundation — the conservative public policy think tank that has had enormous influence in the (anti)Republican Party in both Congress and the White House — published a report in April 2001 projecting that the economic boom about to be unleashed by Bush’s 2001 tax cuts would completely eliminate the national debt by fiscal year 2010.

But the promise that tax cuts would pay for themselves is a lie. What actually happened was a massive misallocation of capital away from productive economic investments, resulting in stagnation of real economic activity. As government was shoved “out of the way” by defunding it, shutting agencies, and cutting regulations, the entire economy began to shift from actual productive functions of wealth creation, to functions of speculation, usury, and arbitrage. The results include a massive shortfall in promised and expected tax revenues.

As the Center for American Progress article explains:

Of particular interest is that projected levels of both revenues and noninterest spending have decreased: Both are projected to be lower than in the CBO’s projections issued before the permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts. This decrease in noninterest spending is the equivalent of more than $4.5 trillion in lower spending over a decade. But the drop in revenue was three-and-a-half times as large, the equivalent of more than $16 trillion in lower revenues over a decade. Despite the rhetoric of runaway spending, projections of long-term primary spending have decreased, but projections of long-term revenues have decreased vastly more. The United States does not have a high-spending problem; it has a low-tax problem.

Sullivan’s avoidance of a deep consideration of “regressive tax cuts” indicates tax increases are simply a political minefield most Democratic Party leaders don’t want to walk into, even though there is landslide popular support for raising taxes on the rich, especially billionaires. We must change this political dynamic so that that every time a reporter and journalist interviews a Republican politician on the issues of the budget, the deficit, and the national debt, the first questions that come out are: “What about all those tax cuts that caused the deficit in the first place? Why aren’t you talking about raising taxes?” ]


Global power shift

China’s Dominance Over U.S. Solar Market Grows Despite Efforts to Stem It 

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2023]

China Is Quickly Becoming One Of The Largest Automobile Exporters In The World

[ZeroHedge, via Mike Norman Economics, April 26, 2023]

China’s exports shifting from West to Global South 

David P. Goldman [Asia Times, via Mike Norman Economics, April 25, 2023]

Global economic growth is now coming from the Global South/East as these countries develop. China is in a position to capitalize (pun intended) on this trend, which appears to be long term owing to lower costs than prevail in the developed countries. China is the largest market globally and also the “world’s factory,” covering both supply and demand.

Russia to boost China pipeline gas supplies by almost 50%

[Anadolu Agency, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-2023]

Kremlin explains seizure of foreign assets

[RT, via Mike Norman Economics, April 26, 2023]

The [Kremlin] spokesman [Dmitry Peskov] added that the move “mirrors the attitude of Western states towards foreign assets belonging to Russian companies.”

“The main goal of the step is to create a compensation fund for potential use in tit-for-tat measures in response to the expropriation of Russian assets abroad,” Peskov said. He added that a number of states systematically carry out a rapid transition from temporary administration to actual confiscation..

The decree does not deal with property issues and does not deprive the owners of their assets, Peskov stressed, noting that the list of assets subjected to the measure could be expanded.

Militaries, Metals, and Mining RAND 

[RAND Corporation, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-2023]

[TW: Historically, as the impulse of civic republicanism was smothered in USA, military requirements emerged as almost the sole driver of the technological progress required for each successive phase change pushing forward economic progress. See Merritt Roe Smith, editor, Military enterprise and technological change: perspectives on the American experience (1985), and Kenneth Flamm, Creating the Computer: Government, Industry and High Technology (1988).]

…Military requirements for platforms like the SR-71 pushed metallurgical science, processing, and technology forward throughout much of the 20th century. The resultant nickel and cobalt superalloys, titanium 6-aluminum 4-vanadium (Ti6Al4V), and others transformed not only military aircraft and munitions, but also global air travel, space flight, communications, and medical equipment.

Even stricter military requirements and cutting-edge manufacturing techniques, such as additive manufacturing, continue to push the field to its limits in the 21st century—and the demand for raw materials to satisfy these needs is growing in response.


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-29-2023]



Biden Prepares To Give Up On Ukraine 

[Moon of Alabama, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2023]

To the Losers Go the Spoils?

Conor Gallagher, April 28, 2023 [Naked Capitalism]

While the tea leaves in the American press are signifying that the Biden administration is about to give up on Ukraine, the plans continue on how to profit off whatever scraps are left of Ukraine once the war does eventually come to an end.

The potential windfall for western companies could be enormous as estimates range from $500 billion to over $1 trillion in reconstruction costs.

Ukraine’s Naftogaz is holding talks with Exxon Mobil Corp, Halliburton and Chevron about projects in the country, according to the Financial Times. Italy’s private sector is gearing up to join the reconstruction game. Paris and Kiev are already signing deals.

Geopolitics, container shipping rates and an ominous sign from Taiwan 

[Freight Waves, via Naked Capitalism 4-23-2023]


Climate and environmental crises

Supreme Court Rejects Big Oil’s Bid to Derail Climate Liability Lawsuits 

[DeSmog, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2023]

The Challenge of Blue Carbon 

[Nautilus, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-2023]

Micro- and nanoplastics breach the blood–brain barrier in mice

[MDPI, via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2023]

Germany’s green energy delusion has an enormous environmental and economic price tag 

[Remix, via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2023]

The underbelly of electric vehicles

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 4-28-2023]

What goes into making EVs, where it comes from and at what human cost.

California to meet 100% of water requests for the first time since 2006 

[AP, via Naked Capitalism 4-24-2023]

Renewables generate more of EU’s electricity than fossil fuels over winter for 1st time

Anadolu Agency, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2023]

“…but it cannot rely on emergency demand cuts and mild weather for future years.”

The Future of U.S. Natural Gas: A Conversation with Charif Souki (Video)

[CSIS, YouTube, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2023]

[NC commenter: “The EU is in deep doodoo vis-a-vis energy. The US is not. All according to plan.”]


Information age dystopia

 “Chinese EV giant BYD says self-driving tech is more valuable for factories than cars”

[CNBC, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-28-2023]

“Fully autonomous driving is ‘basically impossible’ and the technology would be better applied to manufacturing, according to Chinese battery and electric car company BYD. ‘There may be many industries and businesses that invest a lot of money on this [tech], and after investing for many years it will prove it leads nowhere,’ Li Yunfei, a spokesperson for BYD, said in Mandarin, translated by CNBC.”

Lambert Strether added: “Atrios, who has a side hustle as a transportation maven and got the autonomous vehicle scam right from the start, comments: “BYD is probably the actual tech leader on this stuff and they’re throwing in the towel…. Lots of issues, but the basic one is that the gap between ‘works well 99% of the time’ and ‘works well 100% of the time’ is the gap between ‘really annoying’ and ‘useful’ and there’s no way to bridge that gap…. Congrats to all the very smart people (the world’s easiest marks) for not seeing this 10 years ago.” “

A research team airs the messy truth about AI in medicine—and gives hospitals a guide to fix it

[STAT, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-28-2023]

“In public, hospitals [that is, hospital executives and administrators] rave about artificial intelligence. They trumpet the technology in press releases, plaster its use on billboards, and sprinkle AI into speeches touting its ability to detect diseases earlier and make health care faster, better, and cheaper. But on the front lines, the hype is smashing into a starkly different reality. Caregivers complain AI models are unreliable and of limited value. Tools designed to warn of impending illnesses are inconsistent and sometimes difficult to interpret. Even evaluating them for accuracy, and susceptibility to bias, is still an unsettled science.” • Worth reading in full. Maybe the AI profiteers should stick to denying people care, instead of trying to deliver it. That’s a far more well-understood process


Surveillance state 

Time to Get Spies Out of Politics 

Matt Taibbi [via Naked Capitalism 4-25-2023]

Lock Him Up! Ranking Democrat Suggests Possible Criminal Charges Against Journalist Matt Taibbi 

Jonathan Turley [The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 4-23-2023]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-26-2023]


America, the Single-Opinion Cult 

Matt Taibbi [Racket News, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2023]

Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex 

Matt Taibbi [Racket News, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2023]

An Insider’s Guide to “Anti-Disinformation” 

Andrew Lowenthal [Racket News, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2023]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2023]




The Russiagate Playbook: ex-CIA chief admits interference in two straight elections 

Aaron Maté, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2023]

“Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell admits that the Biden campaign triggered the false claim that the Hunter laptop story was ‘Russian disinformation.’”

Now They’re Trying Censor Your Text Messages

Michael Shellenberger [Public, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2023]

“The Censorship Industrial Complex wants to censor ‘problematic content’ on WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, and other encrypted text messaging apps.”


Democrats’ political malpractice

Neera Tanden leads the Susan Rice replacement race

Ryan Grim [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-26-2023]

Among the high-profile departures announced on bloody Monday, one may prove far more historically consequential than the other two. Susan Rice cut a low public profile in her role as director of the Domestic Policy Council, but it is as important a role as any other inside the White House – perhaps more than any other. The choice of her successor will be arguably the most significant President Joe Biden makes in the back half of his first term….

…with the House in Republican hands, the Biden administration’s ability to wield executive power when it comes to immigration, wages, implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, executing on its care economy agenda, implementing gun control policies, securing voting rights, or finding creative ways to expand access to abortion services will heavily depend on who Biden taps to run the DPC. The position will also take on heightened importance if the Supreme Court ultimately rejects the administration’s student debt relief plan.

Democrats’ State-Level Comeback Hits Its Limits

[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-27-2023]

“[Democrat Janet] Protasiewicz’s eventual 11-point victory [in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election] was the latest example of how Democrats have made major progress in clawing back power at the state level, with party leaders in key states effectively turning state-level elections into extensions of national political causes, tying them to the outcome of the next presidential election and hyping up the importance of state-by-state battles over abortion rights. The strategy has fired up college-educated voters, who are more likely to vote in off-year elections, and convinced liberals around the country to pour small-dollar donations into electoral contests once considered far too obscure to merit outside investment. The results of these tactics speak for themselves: 57% of Americans live in a state with a Democratic governor. The 17 states where Democrats have a trifecta ― meaning they control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature ― equal 41.6% of the country’s population. The 22 Republican trifectas, mostly built in smaller states, amount to just 39.6% of the country. But as the party continues a long slog back from its 2010 wipeout ― when Republicans jumped from 9 trifectas to 22 in a single night and gained control of a redistricting process enabling them to lock Democrats out of power in states across the country ― the chances for further progress are shrinking.”

Embracing Defeat

Joseph O’Neill, April 23, 2023 [The New York Review]

…Legal systems have always had “rogue” judges, in the sense of idiosyncratic solo actors whose errors and misdeeds are subject to correction by appellate judges of integrity and good sense. Judges O’Connor and Kacsmaryk are not rogue actors. They are members of a network of judicial politicians whose careers are sponsored by the Federalist Society and whose primary loyalty is to the Republican Party and its far-right, Christianist agenda. This network also dominates the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court. Its members’ modus operandi is to accept legal challenges brought by extremist interest groups with dubious legal standing and concoct whatever jurisprudence is needed to achieve their aims. In effect, there exists a political litigation pipeline, running from Amarillo to New Orleans to Washington, that is staffed by corrupt judges ready and willing to advance the causes of the Republican Party and its donors.

This situation turns democracy on its head, as it is designed to. Americans can vote Democrats into power, but Democratic legislative or executive actions—on climate change, say, or immigration, or wealth inequality, or strengthening the rights of women or Dreamers or LGBTQ Americans or trade unions—are subject to a de facto veto by bad-faith Republican district judges whose ostensibly de jure actions are reviewable by bad-faith appellate judges whose actions are reviewable by a Supreme Court with a supermajority of bad-faith judges whose decisions cannot be challenged by another branch of government. It is the system that has gone rogue.

The Texas cases form part of an extraordinary wave of GOP belligerence. This month Republicans passed legislation that all but eliminates legal abortion in Florida, expelled two Democrats from the Tennessee House for an act of peaceful protest, began to roll back child labor protections in Iowa, and closed ranks behind Justice Clarence Thomas in the face of revelations that for decades he has secretly benefited from the largesse of a Republican megadonor and activist named Harlan Crow.

Preserving constitutional democracy from Republican extremism, ensuring access to affordable health care, defending the autonomy of women—these are part of the Democratic Party’s raison d’être. How have its leaders responded? With passivity that borders on surrender….

Protasiewicz won as a result of what Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democrats, called an “industrial strength” campaign. It involved year-round grassroots organizing, year after year; an absolutely committed, adversarial, must-win posture that did not seek to protect the GOP brand from the party’s own corruption; focusing on the GOP’s extremism in order to flip suburban voters; involving students in organizing and turning out astonishing numbers of student voters; and creating a state party that empowers and enjoys the deep trust of its base and grassroots allies. This dynamic partisan strategy had an enormously beneficial effect on fundraising. Unions and “independent and grassroots groups” have “been running at a fever pitch since 2019,” Wikler reflected after Protasiewicz‘s win….

This bears little resemblance to the political operations of the White House or the DNC or underperforming Democratic parties in states such as New York and Florida. That must change. Even before the Texas decisions, legal concerns had led Walgreens to announce that it would not sell mifepristone in twenty-one states. An overreaching GOP is winning ground that is sacred to Democrats. Biden is not doing enough about it.

American Liberalism Is Exhausted

Luke Savage [Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 4-29-2023]

The political arm of American liberalism is effectively saying that it has no better candidate to offer than Joe Biden, and no vision its current leadership can envision pursuing that looks beyond the present horizon….

American liberalism is exhausted, but it cannot regenerate or reimagine itself, because doing so would require taking risks and breaking with pro-corporate shibboleths. When a political project has based its entire appeal on restoring equilibrium and stewarding normalcy, both are obviously impossible. The result, as the circumstances surrounding Biden’s reelection bid illustrate, is a constellation of institutions too enervated to transform themselves and too fixed in their patterns to be forced into a meaningful realignment.

Such a realignment would not actually be impossible. An incarnation of the Democratic Party willing to substitute a populist strategy for the current big donor and Wall Street–friendly approach could find fertile ground within the electorate on which to put down roots. Americans know the economy is rigged in favor of the rich. When it was first introduced, majorities of voters in both parties supported the idea of a Green New Deal. Ordinary Americans want higher taxes on the wealthy and a majority would prefer a universal, Medicare for All system that puts human need over private profit.

Pursuit of such an agenda, however, would require the kind of confrontation with corporate America that today’s Democratic mainstream gestures at when it’s convenient but dispenses with in practice. It would also require mass mobilization, the ousting of countless operatives from their sinecures, and a party culture open and dynamic enough to accommodate the challenging of incumbents.

Having defeated that vision in 2016 and 2020, Democratic grandees are evidently content to rest on their laurels, make broad appeals for tolerance, and pitch themselves as the only alternative to an increasingly menacing Republican right.


Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Violent extremists are increasingly sharing tactics for attacking power stations, DHS warns 

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-25-2023]

“Following multiple high-profile attacks on US power substations last year, extremists have stepped up sharing of “online messaging and operational guidance promoting attacks against this sector,” says the DHS bulletin, which was distributed to US critical infrastructure operators on Monday. The information and tactics shared by extremists online include ‘detailed diagrams, simplified tips for enhancing operational security, and procedures for disabling key components of substations and transformers,’ DHS warned. The last year saw a flurry of physical attacks and vandalism on US electric infrastructure. Tens of thousands of people lost power in Moore County, North Carolina, in December after Duke Energy substations were damaged by gunfire. On Christmas, thousands of people lost power in a Washington county after someone vandalized multiple substations there. A DHS spokesperson told CNN in a statement: ‘The Department of Homeland Security regularly shares information regarding the heightened threat environment with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officials to ensure the safety and security of all communities across the country.’ Some of the threats to electric infrastructure have come from people espousing racially or ethnically motivated extremist ideology ‘to create civil disorder and inspire further violence,’ the FBI previously said in a November bulletin sent to private industry.”

Republicans Fight a Solar Boom That’s Made Texas King of Clean Energy

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 4-24-2023]

The political backlash against ESG is behind a push to penalize renewables.

The GOP’s debt ceiling proposal bundles every bad policy idea into one noxious package

Michael Hiltzik [Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-27-2023]

“The GOP proposal would gut Medicaid and food stamp eligibility for millions of Americans, including 21 million Medicaid enrollees alone, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. It would turn the clock back on efforts to wean the U.S. from fossil fuels and prepare for the next inevitable pandemic. It would increase the burden on people struggling with student debt and throttle an untold number of nondefense programs such as anti-pollution enforcement and consumer protection. It would roll back tax enforcement, giving the green light to tax evasion by the rich. It is, in short, a one-stop shop for every chuckleheaded idea that Republicans have cooked up to undermine the public interest over the decades.”

The DeSantis School 

Dan Royles, April 27, 2023 [The Baffler, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-28-2023]

I’M EXHAUSTED. I’m exhausted because I teach U.S. history, including African American and LGBTQ+ history, at a public university in Florida. Here Governor Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers are dismantling higher education at breakneck speed, and they’re doing it in part by taking aim at people like me.

Capital’s Militant 

[New Left Review, via Naked Capitalism 4-27-2023]

Profile of libertarian Übermensch Peter Thiel.

It feels almost futile to note the logical inconsistencies of these arguments. Thiel maintains that progress is rare in human history, yet absolute monarchies have been the norm, from which one can only deduce that absolute monarchies have seldom generated progress. Monopolies don’t come from nowhere but arise precisely when a firm beats its competitors. One might in fact say that in an unregulated market monopoly is an inevitable result of competition: competing implies winners and losers, and as the winner is increasingly successful it becomes easier for them to dominate. This is why in the proto-history of capitalism of every country, we see the emergence of monopolies. To avoid their formation, it has always been necessary for states to implement anti-trust laws. Moreover, as soon as they’re established, monopolies cease to innovate and tend to live off rentierism.

There is an even more fundamental contradiction here. How can someone declare themselves a libertarian yet support absolute monarchy? Whose freedom is he talking about? How many monopolies can the world accommodate? Freedom for the very few, slavery for the vast majority is the destination.

Texas is first step in a national plan to install ‘chaplains’ in public schools instead of professional counselors

[ reported on April 20,

The Texas Legislature is considering House Bill 3614 and Senate Bill 763, which would allow Texas schools to hire chaplains to perform the work of school counselors but without any required certification, training or experience….

The House bill’s sponsor is Rep. Cole Hefner of Mount Pleasant, Texas. Hefner, the father of seven children, is a member of South Jefferson Baptist Church in Lindale. The Senate bill’s sponsor is Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston, a proponent of taxpayer-funded vouchers for private Christian schools. Both legislators are conservative Republicans.

Currently, Texas law requires school counselors to pass a school counselor certification exam, to hold at least a 48-hour master’s degree in counseling from an accredited institution of higher education, and to have two creditable years of teaching experience as a classroom teacher.

Hefner’s bill would allow “chaplains” to replace these trained and licensed school counselors.


The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

The controversial article Texas federal judge Matthew Kacsmaryk did not disclose to the Senate

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 4-25-2023]

The judge who delivered a high-stakes abortion pills ruling last week removed his name from a law review article during his judicial nomination process, emails show.

Judicial record undermines Clarence Thomas defence in luxury gifts scandal

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 4-25-2023]

Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow was linked to a conservative group that had court business while Thomas was on the bench.

Law firm head bought Gorsuch-owned property 

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 4-26-2023] Greenberg Traurig. Jack Abramoff left Preston Gates & Ellis to join Greenberg Traurig in January 2001.

[TW: According to Wikipedia, In January 2016, Rudy Giuliani moved to the law firm Greenberg Traurig, “where he served as the global chairman for Greenberg’s cybersecurity and crisis management group, as well as a senior advisor to the firm’s executive chairman. In April 2018, he took an unpaid leave of absence when he joined Trump’s legal defense team. He resigned from the firm on May 9, 2018.” ]

What Democrats Can Learn From Reporting on Supreme Court Corruption

Ryan Cooper, April 26, 2023 [The American Prospect]

The justices are sensitive to political pressure. Senate Democrats can impose that pressure through investigation….

Perhaps sensing a rich vein of potential scandal, Politico has now joined the fray with an article about Justice Neil Gorsuch. Heidi Przybyla reports that just nine days after being confirmed to the Court, Gorsuch (together with two co-owners) sold a 40-acre property with a 3,000-square-foot log cabin in Granby, Colorado, to Brian Duffy for $1.825 million. Gorsuch had a 20 percent stake, so that would have netted him $365,000. Gorsuch did disclose making between a quarter and half a million dollars, but he left the box indicating the identity of the purchaser blank.

Wouldn’t you know it, Duffy is the chief executive of Greenberg Traurig, a major law firm that routinely has business before the Court. “Since [the sale], Greenberg Traurig has been involved in at least 22 cases before or presented to the court,” Przybyla writes, including working for conservative states in the infamous case where a majority, including Gorsuch, struck down Obama’s plan for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, despite the plan having never gone into effect. (Congress partially restored the EPA’s power in the Inflation Reduction Act.)

This kind of reporting can constrain the Court’s power in at least two ways. First, it will make the justices rightly nervous about their political legitimacy. While the Court is insulated almost entirely from any formal accountability, its members are human beings, sensitive to some degree to how they are perceived by society. All else equal, justices will be more hesitant to trample all over Congress and the president when their blatantly unethical behavior is all over the news (except Thomas, probably). Doing so might fuel future Democratic victories, or put real momentum behind Court reform efforts.

That is doubly true because the Court itself has de facto legalized political corruption. In Citizens United, it struck down most rules on campaign financing; it overturned the bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell; and it struck down a law prohibiting political candidates from repaying personal loans to their campaign with post-election donations, meaning that interested parties can effectively place bribes directly into the pockets of our elected representatives. (The McDonnell decision was unanimous, by the way, which tends to suggest it isn’t just the conservatives who are the problem.) Blatant corruption on the Court is even more outrageous when the Court has done more than anyone to unleash a tsunami of money in politics.

Second, and more practically, these ethical violations are strong evidence for arguments that the justices should recuse themselves more often.


[The Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 4-28-2023]

U.S. Supreme Court justices take lavish gifts — then raise the bar for bribery prosecutions

[Ohio Capital Journal, via Naked Capitalism 4-29-2023]

Jane Roberts, who is married to Chief Justice John Roberts, made $10.3 million in commissions from elite law firms, whistleblower documents show 

[Insider, via Naked Capitalism 4-29-2023]

President Biden Must Appoint More Corporate Skeptics to Federal Courts

Caroline  Fredrickson, April 21, 2023 [The American Prospect]

Republicans have been blasting right-wing propaganda at the judiciary for 50 years….

Unfortunately, President Biden’s otherwise commendable record on nominations has one glaring gap: He has advanced few candidates with a background or even apparent disposition to challenge the anti-regulatory economic agenda and fight corporate consolidation, failing even to advance more than a couple of labor lawyers. The administration is currently in overdrive to nominate and confirm nominees before the next election, so now is the time to address this gap. New appointees would be able to reclaim and elevate the textual and historical commitments of antitrust law, which sought to dismantle oligarchy by looking at how corporate consolidation affects workers, small businesses, innovation, and competition, as well as consumers.


Good ideas

Toward a Leisure Ethic: How people spend their time is a fundamental mark of civilization

Stuart Whatley [, Spring 2023]

In the Athens of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, the idea of working beyond what was necessary was abhorrent. Likewise for the Roman elites, though their precise views on leisure differed from those of the Greeks….

Similarly, in later centuries, following the rise of Christendom, religious thinkers generally favored leisure over work (vita contemplativa as opposed to vita activa), because that was how one drew closer to God. Work, after all, was punishment for humankind’s original sin. “The obligations of charity make us undertake righteous business [negotium],” wrote Augustine, but “if no one lays the burden upon us, we should give ourselves up to leisure [otium], to the perception and contemplation of truth.”….

To most people today, the notion of a leisure ethic will sound foreign, paradoxical, and indeed subversive, even though leisure is still commonly associated with the good life. More than any other society in the past, ours certainly has the technology and the wealth to furnish more people with greater freedom over more of their time. Yet because we lack a shared leisure ethic, we have not availed ourselves of that option. Nor does it occur to us even to demand or strive for such a dispensation….

How people spend their time is a fundamental mark of civilization, but it is a category that tends to be lost beneath a society’s scientific, technological, military, and material attainments. Rarely do we notice that, temporally speaking, the scope of human freedom is as circumscribed as it ever was—and in some respects, much more so. In the rich societies of the twenty-first century, most people spend their prime years locked in meaningless, unessential, work punctuated by meaningless entertainment.

Henry C. Carey – The Harmony of Interests: Agricultural, Manufacturing & Commercial (1851)

The object sought to be accomplished is the improvement of the condition of man. The mode by which it is to be accomplished is that of increasing his productive power. The more food a man can raise, the more and better food may he consume, and the larger will be the surplus that can be appropriated to the purchase of clothing, to the education of his family, to the enlargement of his house, or to the improvement of his machinery, and the greater Will be the amount of leisure that can be appropriated to the improvement of his modes of thought.

The better his machinery, and the more readily it can be obtained, the larger will be his production. Machinery consists chiefly of iron, and the more readily that can be obtained, the more rapid will be the increase of production and the improvement of the physical, moral, intellectual and political capacities of man. It is the great instrument of civilization. (p. 78)


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-25-2023]




Open Thread


The Disastrous Rise of STEM


  1. Purple Library Guy

    Some of the early articles in the list relate to corporate tax levels. Most people have a seriously mistaken impression of what corporate taxation is and how it works, and that is the basis for convincing people that low corporate taxes are good.

    The thing is, for most people, their main tax is the income tax–we pay tax on all the money we make, on our revenue. And if we’re barely getting by, obviously if the tax on that went up significantly, we could find ourselves underwater. And people have the vague impression, even if they technically know different, that corporate taxation is kind of LIKE individual income taxation. And so right wingers will go on and on about how if you increased corporate taxes, it would cause businesses to go under, or be unable to innovate, or stuff like that.

    But this is of course a lie. Corporate taxes are on PROFITS. It’s as if you or I were to look at our bank account at the beginning of the year and then the end of the year and pay tax on how much more money was in it, if any. Sweet gig if you can get it, but the implications are huge. First, taxing profits cannot make a company go under, duh, because if they’re in a position where they need to worry about going under, they’re not making any profits, and so they’re paying zero tax whatever the rate is. But, second, high corporate taxes ENCOURAGE innovation and investment. Why? Because if corporation X made 10 million dollars in profit, which it plans to hand over to shareholders in dividends or whatever, that’s 10 million dollars getting taxed. But if corporation X put 5 million of those dollars into new machinery or a bigger office or improved software or R&D or whatever, presto, it is now only 5 million in profit getting taxed. So if taxes are heavy, corporations have an incentive to spend more money on useful things. If taxes are light, there’s no need, just take the money.

    It occurs to me that low corporate taxes also encourage speculative business over productive business. Because if your company’s business is currency trading or hedge funding or whatever, there are basically no productive investments you can make. You don’t have a plant, you have no research or development to do–you just take money, play the casino with it, and take profits (or losses, unless you get a bailout). So if corporate taxes are high, productive companies have things to invest those profits in, letting them pay less taxes, but financial companies do not, putting them at a disadvantage of sorts. But if corporate taxes are low that ceases to matter.

  2. different clue

    @ Purple Library Guy,

    Your point is interesting and worthwhile to know. I don’t know whether it is better understood in Canada than it is in America.

    Certainly in America, it is one of many points which would need to be explained to millions of people at tedious length over many years in a vast, deep and broadly diffuse and distributed Rolling Ongoing Teach-In Movement. The authorities were afraid that Occupy would start up such a Rolling Ongoing Teach-In Movement Culture all over America, so they smashed it hard to prevent that from happening. Mayor Bloombert of NYC made a special point of bulldozering the Zucotti Park Peoples’ Library Mothership in order to destroy each and every one of the hundreds of donated books which resided there, lest it inspire tens, hundreds, thousands of daughter Peoples’ Libraries from sprouting up in tens, hundreds, thousands of geographically separated communities.

    Imagine if America had as many Occupy Reading Rooms as America has Christian Science Reading Rooms today.
    Here is a map of Christian Science Facilities. The clickable legend of “various types of resources” allows one to look up the location of all the Reading Rooms, for example.

    Are there any survivors of the Occupy Movements who are not too worn out and discouraged and drained by the day-to-day hour-by-hour effort to maintain minimum brute physical survival? If there are, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they learned about Reading Rooms from Christian Science and about economic ( especially food and water) fortress-survivalism from the Mormon Church? Maybe someday we could have Occupy Reading Rooms and Occupy Stakes all over America.

  3. Adam Eran

    …a little Marxist Church history, among other things

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