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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – April 4, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

The Biden Stimulus: If You Think Inflation is the Problem, Just Wait

[YouTube, March 1, 2021]

Very informative part is Blyth’s reply beginning at 4:06.

So essentially what we’re doing is a 2 trillion dollar experiment in different theories of inflation. Why does that matter? The progressive side of the Democrats think of the world in this way: the fundamental problem [is that] wages for 60% of Americans haven’t moved almost since the 1970s.  And up to the 50th percentile of the income distribution Americans earn $20 an hour or less. You can’t run this country with that degree of working poverty.  That’s what’s behind the anger; that’s what’s behind the populism. We need to spend a lot of money to make the economy run hot. We don’t need to worry about inflation because interest rates are low for a lot of reasons and there’s been no inflation for 40 years. We can boost wages—and if we do, we stabilize the situation, and a lot of the bad shit we’ve been dealing with for the past several years will not come back.

On the other hand you have the deficit hawks, the Republicans, the centrist economists saying, no no , you’ll have terrible inflation. They’re essentially saying things are okay, and the reason you have populism is: yeah, there’s been some people who have been left behind, but there’s a lot of racism there, and this is a cultural struggle. Really the economy is doing fine and this is far too much stimulus.

Now what you see there are basically people using economic arguments to bolster their priors. So if you think populism and the ills of the US is about low wages, you will say inflation is not a problem. If you don’t think that then you don’t say that it is a problem. I doubt that it’s really about people worried about inflation. But I worry because I buy the argument that wages matter. And I worry that if we don’t try this in this moment you’re not going to get wage growth—and if you don’t get consistent wage growth over the next couple years the Democrats are dead when it comes around to the mid terms.

The minimum wage would be $44 per hour if it had grown at the same rate as Wall Street bonuses

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-21]

Four Numbers That Show the Cost of Slavery on Black Wealth Today

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 3-28-2021]

At the end of the Civil War, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman promised some 4 million freed slaves land that they would own, live, and work on to build an economic future for themselves — also known as 40 acres and a mule. “Genuine freedom required some kind of economic base,” says Eric Foner, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, on episode 2 of The Pay Check podcast. “And in an agricultural society that meant owning land.”


Instead, after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, his successor, Andrew Johnson, reneged on the deal. Black Americans started their freed lives empty handed. By some estimates that land would have been worth as much as $3.1 trillion today….

The racial wealth gap begins with slavery itself, which was a huge wealth generator for White Americans. The economic value of the 4 million slaves in 1860 was, on average, $1,000 per person, or about $4 billion total. That was more than all the banks, railroads and factories in the U.S. were worth at the time. In today’s dollars, that would come out to as much as $42 trillion, accounting for inflation and compounding interest….

Slavery was also the engine driving the cotton economy, which enriched everyone from banks, shopkeepers, and insurers, too. Meanwhile, slaves lost out on an estimated $20.3 trillion in wages for their labor….

What little wealth Black families were able to build after the Civil War was often destroyed violently. In the most egregious incident, the Tulsa massacre of 1921, mobs and police officers burned down what was then known as Black Wall Street, obliterating $200 million in homes and businesses and displacing 10,000 Black Tulsans…. After the Civil War and well into the 20th Century, there were about 100 of these attacks, in addition to some 3,000 lynchings of Black Americans.

Has The Era Of Ordinary Americans Thinking They Are “Pre-Rich” Ended?

Ian Welsh, April 2, 2021

“Buried in the new Morning Consult/Politico poll is an eye-popping statistic: Voters by a 2-to-1 margin prefer a $3 trillion infrastructure bill that includes tax hikes on $400K+ and corporations over one that excludes those tax hikes.”

For most of my life, tax-cuts were the mantra of the generation and tax-raises were automatically bad. These tax cuts went overwhelmingly to the rich, but Americans and Canadians and Brits were all for it. As many observed, it seemed they believed that one day they would be rich, and therefore that high taxes on rich people were bad.

Now that seems to have changed, and I suspect it’s that American have finally got it thru their thick heads that no, most of them will never be rich, and moreover the reason they’ll never be rich is because the people who already are, are kneeling on their neck….  The Pandemic, with the rich getting massively richer while the working class died, was evicted and generally suffered so that the wealthy and upper middle class could sip delivered lattes in their houses while tapping delicately into their computers,  having Zoom meetings and feeling sorry for themselves may well have been the straw that finally broke the back on the delusion of being “pre-rich.”

….Clarity having arrived at last, it’s time to break the rich even more than the Great Crash, Great Depression and marginal tax rates of 94% did. Slap on the wealth taxes, raise the marginal tax rate on income more than 10x median to 99%, tax corporations, disallow share buy backs, kick foreign money out of real-estate markets, tax empty homes, create a wealth tax on anything more than 30x median, and slap an estate tax on anything over the same: your kids don’t get to rule over everyone else because you were rich.

The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution

Edmund S. Morgan, “The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Jan., 1967), pp. 3-43

One note before the excerpt: the transition, under liberalism, from political economy to economics and politics as two separate bodies of intellectual pursuit involved removing the questions of morality (ethics) from economic considerations: only market forces were the acceptable means for judging economic outcomes.

“The Ethic conveyed the idea of each man’s and woman’s “calling” in life. “The emphasis of [work or labor] was on productivity for the benefit of society. In addition to working diligently at productive tasks, a man was supposed to be thrifty and frugal. It was good to produce but bad to consume any more than necessity required. A man was but a steward of the possessions he accumulated. If he indulged himself in luxurious living, he would have that much less with which to support church and society. If he needlessly consumed his substance, either from carelessness or from sensuality, he failed to honor the God who furnished him with it.”


“The calling of a ruler, as the colonists and their Puritan forebearers saw it, was like any other calling: it must serve the common good; it must be useful, productive; and it must be assiduously pursued.”


The Puritan Ethic whether enjoined by God, by history, or by philosophy, called for diligence in a productive calling, beneficial both to society and to the individual. It encouraged frugality and frowned on extravagance. It viewed the merchant with suspicion and speculation with horror. It distrusted prosperity and gathered strength from adversity…. The merchants actually had more than a short-range interest at stake in their reluctance to undertake nonimportation. The movement, as we have seen, was not simply a means of securing repeal of the taxes to which merchants along with other colonists were opposed. The movement was in fact anticommercial, a repudiation of the merchant’s calling. Merchants, it was said, encouraged men to go into debt. Merchants pandered to luxury. Since they made more on the sale of superfluous baubles than on necessities, they therefore pressed the sale of them to a weak and gullible public. What the advocates of nonimportation demanded was not merely an interruption of commerce but a permanent reduction, not to say elimination, of it. In its place they called for manufacturing, a palpably productive, useful calling.

Is there a path here by which the evangelical christianists might be saved by prompting them to engage in an opposition to consumer culture and in favor of a more responsible stewardship of resources?

Preachers and their $5,000 sneakers

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 3-28-2021]

Why one man started an Instagram account showing churches’ wealth: Serious questions about wealth, class and consumerism, including whether it’s appropriate to generate massive revenue from selling the gospel of Jesus. The fuzzy line” between successful ministry and booming business.

The Epidemic

Stanford Scientists Reverse Engineer Moderna Vaccine, Post Code on Github

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-21]

Lambert Strether: “Does this solve the “third world can’t get vaccines till 2023” problem? Not that Moderna is the best candidate for them, because cold storage. However, recall that our KLG said plenty of labs and manufacturers have the capability to make mRNA vaccines, including in the global South. Moderna could of course sue any infringers, but what if they are in places like Cuba that presumably don’t enforce US intellectual property laws?

The Biden Transition and the Fight for Real Hope and Change This Time

First 100: The Day One Agenda Has Stalled Out

David Dayen, April 2, 2021 [The American Prospect]

However, as I wrote earlier this week, the Education Department hasn’t taken the very minor steps to give student borrowers relief to which they are clearly entitled. A bunch of labor unions have joined the chorus, in their case asking the administration to cancel debt for public service workers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program who have qualified for cancellation by working in public service for 10 years. So I’m not sanguine that we’ll see debt cancellation for all borrowers until we see it for those already supposed to get it….

Another really powerful option for a president is to use “march-in rights” on prescription drugs that were developed with public support. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 allows the Health and Human Services Department to “march in” if those drugs aren’t being offered to the public on “reasonable terms,” with affordability being one of those terms, and then seize the patents, redistributing them to companies who will lower the prices for patients.

As Lee Fang writes today, the Trump administration engaged in an effort at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to modify the Bayh-Dole Act’s rules in a way that would eliminate march-in rights based on high drug prices. Incredibly, this rulemaking was not frozen when the Trump administration ended, and it’s still open for public comment, which means it’s moving toward being finalized.

Drug company lobbying has routinely blocked the use of march-in rights, but this obviously represents an escalation, by preventing such use ever in the future. Lobbyists have been working hard to get the NIST rule across the finish line, even in a Democratic administration. House and Senate Democrats have called on the White House to revoke the rule.

Not only did current Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra call for using march-in rights just last year to lower the cost of coronavirus drug remdesivir, Vice President Kamala Harris made march-in rights a major policy feature of her campaign. Presumably she would be interested in the fact that the administration she serves in is about to wipe this option out.

So not only is Biden not using the Day One Agenda to anything approaching its fullest potential, on one key piece he’s poised to roll it back. People should express their displeasure at this.

Climate and environmental crises

Haruhiko Kuroda: Addressing climate-related financial risks — from a central bank’s perspective (PDF)

Bank of International Settlements, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-21]

The US Is Real Close to Screwing Up Electric Vehicle Charging Forever

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-21]

Instead of trying to fix the interoperability problem, some EV-makers are doubling down, creating the equivalent of gated charging communities for their vehicles. Tesla and Rivian may be the first of many to block other EVs from using their chargers entirely so as to preserve a premium user experience for their own customers….

The first few decades of the automobile had a similar problem. A niche industry mostly populated by hobbyists, automobiles used all kinds of different fuels including benzol, kerosene, gasoline, and in some cases grain alcohols. Only once cars became popular did the industry start to set standards for what gasoline actually was. The federal government’s Bureau of Mines contributed to this effort by setting standards for any fuel it procured, nudging the industry towards standardization. 

Charging Stations Could Drive Electric Vehicles Into a Wall

[The American Prospect, April 2, 2021]

Can the federal government persuade manufacturers to establish a set of standards for EV plugs, adapters, and software to accelerate the green transition?

In nine years, gas stations will be obsolete if all goes according to President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. One of the most closely watched, if thin-on-details, provisions sketches the parameters of the administration’s electric-vehicle initiative, which calls for 500,000 charging stations across America by 2030.

The Coal Plant Next Door

[ProPublica, via The Big Picture 3-28-2021]

Near America’s largest coal-fired power plant, toxins are showing up in drinking water and people have fallen ill. Thousands of pages of internal documents show how one giant energy company plans to avoid the cleanup costs.

Pipeline Company Issues Broad Subpoena to News Site That Covered Protests Against It

[The Intercept, April 3, 2021]

The subpoenas are part of a follow-up effort to a sprawling federal racketeering lawsuit Energy Transfer filed in 2017 against a range of defendants, including the environmental group Greenpeace; BankTrack, which is a nonprofit that pressures banks to stop financing harmful activity; and several individual pipeline opponents.

The federal complaint alleged that thousands of people came to camps at the border of the Standing Rock reservation because of a Greenpeace misinformation campaign. Widespread evidence, including a robust public record, show that water protectors instead were galvanized by calls for help made by tribal members and the publication of shocking footage showing Dakota Access pipeline security contractors siccing dogs on pipeline opponents.

Energy Transfer claimed it sustained $300 million in damages, a total that could translate into triple the penalties — nearly $1 billion — under the federal law called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO….

The legal effort has been labeled a SLAPP suit by Greenpeace, short for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” The SLAPP designation refers to efforts designed to silence a powerful plaintiff’s critics by using the legal system to drain them of resources. The goal is not solely to win the lawsuit but to force a corporation’s political adversaries to hemorrhage money, time, and morale through relentless legal filings….

In February 2019, a judge summarily dismissed Energy Transfer’s initial federal RICO case. “Donating to people whose cause you support does not create a RICO enterprise,” he said. “Posting articles written by people with similar beliefs does not create a RICO enterprise.”

Exactly a week after the dismissal, Energy Transfer filed a new complaint against Greenpeace in a local North Dakota district court. The new case basically repackages the old complaint without the federal RICO claims, adding instead allegations of trespassing and other property-based claims.

“Biden’s Big Bet: Tackling Climate Change Will Create Jobs, Not Kill Them”

[New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-1-21]

Accelerating the shift to wind and solar power is likely to create tens of thousands of construction jobs, economists and industry officials say. But those jobs typically pay far less than those in the fossil fuel industry.

Anthony Prisco, the head of the renewable energy practice for the staffing firm Aerotek, said a standard solar project would employ about 250 workers for just under a year. About one-third of the workers make $30 an hour or more; the other two-thirds have fewer skills and make hourly wages of less than $20.

By contrast, the construction of a gas-powered electricity plant typically lasts two to three years and employs hundreds of skilled, unionized tradesmen — electricians, pipe-fitters and boilermakers — who make $75,000 a year or more, including benefits.

“When you’re talking about the transition to the new green economy, the first question has got to be how are people going to make a horizontal economic move,” said Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, in an interview last month. “I can tell you that in the onshore wind and solar industry, for my members we’re talking in some cases a 75 percent pay cut and they’re losing benefits.”

Jim Harrison, the director of renewable energy for the Utility Workers Union of America, said that it typically takes hundreds of workers to operate and maintain a nuclear or coal plant, several dozen at a gas plant — and about a dozen at a wind farm. Solar fields can often operate without a single worker on-site.

Mr. Biden has acknowledged that his plans could leave around 130,000 oil, gas and coal workers without their livelihoods. He included a $16 billion program to help fossil fuel workers transition to new work like capping leaks on defunct oil wells and shutting down retired coal mines.

“Green investing ‘is definitely not going to work’, says ex-BlackRock executive” [Guardian, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 4-1-21]

“As the former chief investment officer for sustainable investing at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, Fancy was charged with embedding environmental, social and governance (ESG) corporate policies across the investment giant’s portfolio. Fancy was a leader in a movement that has given many people, including investors, activists and academics, hope that after years of backing polluters, Wall Street was finally stepping up to confront the climate crisis. ‘I have looked inside the machine and I can tell you business does not have this,’ Tariq told the Guardian. ‘Not because these are bad people but because they run for-profit machines that will operate exactly as you would expect them to do,’ said Fancy… Investors have a fiduciary duty to maximise returns to their clients and as long as there is money to be made in activities that contribute to global warming, no amount of rhetoric about the need for sustainable investing will change that, he believes.”

Collapse of Independent News Media

Alternatives to Censorship: Interview With Matt Stoller

Matt Taibbi, TK News.

Stoller: “The question isn’t whether Alex Jones should have a platform. The question is, should YouTube have recommended Alex Jones 15 billion times through its algorithms so that YouTube could make money selling ads?”

Liberals want to blame rightwing ‘misinformation’ for our problems. Get real
Thomas Frank, March 19, 2021 [The Guardian]

Has American Liberalism Abandoned Free Speech? Interview With Thomas Frank

Matt Taibbi, March 30, 2021

Matt: You mentioned to me before that you’d never written about this issue previously, because it was so self-evident.

Thomas Frank: It was a no-brainer! I’d never thought about it before. I have, obviously, thought about it, but for people of my generation, censorship was like talking about the unthinkable other. It’s the enemy. It’s so obviously not us, that it didn’t require any thought. It was just something that we were against….

Matt: Why is it exciting to liberals, though? It’s opposite to the tradition.

Thomas Frank: Do you remember my theory about the Democrats and liberals generally, if they become a class party, they’re a big coalition — but they’re dominated now by professional, elite, white-collar professionals, people with advanced degrees.

We don’t need to go into the details here, but one of the features of professionals, obviously, is that they know. They have advanced degrees. They answered your professional code. They’re part of a community of experts, and Democrats and liberals generally think like this now.

There was a time when liberalism was the dominant tradition in this country. Democrats always controlled the House of Representatives up until 1994. Liberals were the dominant political tradition in America, and they can’t figure out how that got taken away from them….

Thomas Frank: It’s something that is, in my mind, that history will not forget. It is absolutely unforgivable. What makes it especially galling to me, is that my adult life has been all about advising the Democrats and advising liberals what they should be doing differently in order to beat these guys. To me, it’s obvious. You rebuild the working-class coalition. You make yourself the party of the vast majority, like Roosevelt did. That’s how Democrats won.

But that’s off the table. They’re not going to consider that. They would sooner do this, start playing footsie with censorship, than do what I described.

Incoming TNR Editor Lays Out Boring Vision For Magazine In “Depressing” Meeting With Staff

[Defector, via Naked Capitalism 3-28-21]

According to two TNR staffers who were in the meeting and spoke on the condition of anonymity given the uncertainty of the situation, Tomasky proposed what amounts to a restoration of a previous iteration of the 107-year-old magazine, when, during the Clinton years, it was known as the inflight magazine of Air Force One. Tomasky, hired by TNR owner and mini media mogul Win McCormack, wants to make the publication a D.C. magazine again, moving editorial operations from New York to D.C. and shifting its journalistic focus to process reporting, profiles, and politician interviews, with the aim of making it influential among “all the parts of the Democratic coalition,” the staffers said. For example, Tomasky offered as an idea that instead of having law professor and author Zephyr Teachout write about monopolies and anti-trust enforcement, a TNR staffer could interview Democratic representatives about it.

Isn’t there some way to prohibit rich people and private equity pirates from owning the republic’s news media? 

Media Monopolies Amplify Conspiracy Theories

Nick J. Licata [DailyKos, April 4, 2021]

William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers made money and built readership by promoting sensationalist and distorted news. His efforts whipped up the public sentiment to help cause the Spanish-American War of 1898. At his peak in 1935, he owned 28 major newspapers and 18 magazines and several radio stations, movie companies, and news services. His total readership amounted to about 12 – 14 percent of the entire daily newspapers’ readership in the mid-1930s.  In 1936, he accused President Roosevelt of being a Socialist, Communist, and Bolshevik and carrying out a Marxist agenda.

Hearst is a mere blip on the scale of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. In 2000, Murdoch’s News Corporation owned over 800 companies in more than 50 countries, with a net worth of over $5 billion. Among his newspaper holdings are the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. His T.V. flagship is Fox News, which according to Statista, the combined number of primetime viewers for CNN and MSNBC were only 81% of Fox’s share in Q4 2020. According to Nielsen Media Research, in 2020, Fox had its 19th consecutive year as the number one cable news network in total day and primetime viewers. Commentators on Fox receive some substantial credit for convincing 70% of Republicans that Biden and radical-socialist Democrats stole Trump’s election.

Legislation has helped create media monopolies

Over the last forty years, Congress and Presidents have contributed to the consolidation of media ownership and weakening the public’s access to balanced news reporting. The federal government had provided a more level playing field among the media owners. Thom Hartmann points out in American Oligarchy, “the telecommunications laws from the 1920s and 1930s kept most newspapers, cable systems, internet providers, and radio and T.V. stations locally owned to prevent oligarchs from asserting singular control over information and news across our nation.”

Restoring balance to the economy

Study finds not prosecuting misdemeanors reduces defendants’ subsequent arrests

[Commonwealth Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 4-1-21]

Class war and economic disequilibrium

Elite philanthropy mainly self-serving

Academic Times, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-21]

Corporate Dems Show Progressives How To Play Hardball

David Sirota and Andrew Perez, March 31, 2021 [The Daily Poster]

Earlier this month, progressive lawmakers refused to withhold their votes on must-pass COVID-19 stimulus legislation until the bill included a $15 minimum wage. A few weeks later, conservative Democratic lawmakers are now threatening to withhold their votes on must-pass infrastructure legislation until the bill includes large tax cuts for the wealthy….

The tax issue revolves around federal write-offs for state and local taxes — colloquially called SALT deductions. Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill limited such deductions to $10,000. The move was perceived as a mean-spirited shot at blue states, which often have higher state and local levies to fund more robust public services. But on the merits, the policy serves to limit tax deductions primarily for higher-income households….

If the SALT cap was fully repealed, nearly all — 96 percent — of the tax benefits would flow to the top quintile of earners, and more than half of the benefits would go to the top 1 percent of earners, according to data from the Brookings Institution. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation found that the majority of the benefits of a SALT cap repeal would flow to households earning more than $1 million.”

Disrupting mainstream politics

TALKING SOCIALISM — Catching up with AOC
Don McIntosh, March 19, 2021 [Democratic Left, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-29-21]

AOC: I think sometimes people fall into this trap of wishful thinking about a poll question, thinking that support is solid, and that it is unsusceptible to the propaganda of corporate lobbyists and the health insurance industry. I think the first thing we need is real honesty about the work to be done ahead of us. There are some issues that poll really well, and the polling is concrete. There are other issues that poll one way or another, and the polling can really fluctuate with just one ad campaign.

Actually, we experienced this in a positive way with the Green New Deal, in that the oil and gas lobbies have gone in so hard to try to give the Green New Deal a bad name. And even after the total hammering that it experienced by the Republican Party, it still doesn’t poll that poorly. However, one thing that we do see is that even in areas where it may not poll as well as we would like, what we find is that it’s highly susceptible to positive messaging. Once we go in and either send organizers, or have other forms of messaging, and actually explain what the Green New Deal is, polling skyrockets for the issue. And so, in terms of tactics and what’s needed, I think we need to actually make the case for single payer health care that is free of cost at the point of service. And we have to say what we mean by Medicare for All, because as we know, there are a lot of cynical actors that try to add all these ellipses, like “Medicare for All who want it that make less than $100,000 per year.” And that’s why we have to engage in the work of organizing….

McIntosh: You’re one of 435 representatives in the House, four of whom are open socialists now. Pessimists might look at that and find that daunting, but you put on a recent Twitter video in which you listed all the specific things you personally got done in two years. You tried to do it in two minutes. It took you four, talking as fast as you could. So for our readers, what are some of the most impactful items on that list?

AOC: Well, for me, I’m already thinking about this term so far, things that aren’t in the video but have already been early wins. And by the way, this just speaks to talking about how nothing will change … we’ve already had really two very significant wins. One non-electoral, which was the Hunts Point Produce workers, being able to support them in securing wage increases and protecting their health care in their strike efforts.

Has AOC Really Sold Out the Left?

​​​​​​​Bad Faith Podcast, YouTube, March 29, 2021

Virgil and Brie do a close read of the recently released AOC interview in DSA’s Democratic Left magazine, and the World Socialist Website article about said interview that incited the left. They separate the good faith critique from the bad, correct some mischaracterizations in the WSW article, and offer their own original critique of the political strategy Representative Ocasio-Cortez articulated.

“The Democratic Party and the political origins of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”

Eric London [World Socialist Web Site, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-31-21]

“The Democratic Party has a vast experience in diverting social opposition by trapping social discontent within its reach, where it is crushed. It has at its disposal billions of dollars, mass media channels and thousands of people whose singular responsibility is to stop social opposition from breaking out of its control. This has been its political role since its inception in 1828, when Andrew Jackson trapped the embryonic anti-capitalism of “workingmen” in the northern cities behind a reactionary alliance with the southern slave-owning class. The emergence of the working class in the post-Civil War period inaugurated decades of violent class struggle, which the Democratic Party attempted to control through subsuming strains of populist, agrarian politics, culminating in the elevation of the demagogue William Jennings Bryan as repeated Democratic presidential candidate at the turn of the 20th century. Despite the insurrectionary character of the class struggle, the Democratic Party fought to prevent these struggles from developing to a point of a political break and the formation of an independent political party in the European model of labor or social democratic parties. This, alongside the extraordinary wealth of American capitalism, explains why there has never been a labor party in the United States.”

….This reached a new stage in the period following the Great Depression, when a wave of semi-insurrectionary strikes and social struggles broke out under the leadership of socialists. The administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, aware of the example of the Russian Revolution of 1917, introduced New Deal social reforms to prevent the workers’ movement from developing in opposition to the capitalist system. This was critical for preparing American imperialism’s entry into World War II, opening up a period of imperialist domination worldwide. John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society portrayed the Democratic Party as “left” in order to temper social discontent at home and facilitate a massive expansion of imperialist plunder abroad.

It is telling that London fails to mention the agrarian revolt of the Grangers, the Farmers Alliances and People’s Party of the 1850s through 1890s (which should be mandatory for anyone discussing the political impact of Bryan’s campaign). Almost all the reforms demanded by the People’s Party and its agrarian predecessors were eventually enacted, most by progressive politicians acting as part of the Democratic Party—though there were also significant contributions by progressive Republicans such as Robert M. La Follette and Fiorello La Guardia—during the New Deal. London’s desire for idelogical purity makes him as repulsive and intellectually sterile as the ideologues of movement conservatism and libertarianism. 

“The Three Factions of the American Left”

[Ross Barkan, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-29-21]

Lambert Strether: I reserve “the left” for entities that put the working class first, so I disagree with Barkan’s terminology. But I like his “division of labor,” as it were.

“When we speak of the ‘left’ in America, ultimately, we speak of the wings of the Democratic Party…. [(1)] Today there is no writing about the socialist left in America without writing about DSA. If I were writing this essay before 2016, there would be no need to address the socialists at all. They were too small and inconsequential to be considered a faction of the party, with less than 10,000 members nationwide. That changed with Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign in 2016… [(2)] If the liberal left can be understood as more committed to amelioration than a socialistic reimagining of the economy—for many Americans, this is fine and dandy!—it can also be explained as a class cohort, a set of attitudes, and a certain commitment to identity above class…. Permit me to coin a term here at Political Currents: [(3) The alphabet left]. There has never been a tidy way to describe the large, well-funded nonprofits and non-governmental organizations that do politics in America. Many of them are based out of large Democratic states like New York. Many are known by their acronyms—hence my use of the word alphabet. Yet the alphabet left is fundamentally different than the socialist left because it still relies on funding from politicians and Democratic donors to survive.”

The Dark Side

Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century

Jane Mayer, March 29, 2021 [New Yorker]

A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers’ network—reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.

The Even Weirder Backstory Behind Bizarre Gaetz Sex Trafficking Investigation Story | Rachel Maddow

[Youtube, March 31, 2021]

I do not recall having posted a clip from Rachel Maddow ever before, but this dive into the cesspool from which the Matt Gaetz sex trafficking allegation emerged pulls together information from a number of Orlando Sentinel stories. I think this kind of behavior, exhibited by an apparent friend and supporter of Gaetz, is a full developed example of the pathology that results from the conservative / libertarian ideology of selfishness promoted by the Kochs, and by Ayn Rand acolytes (see below, I have come to bury Ayn Rand). I think this type of behavior is probably rampant among (not)Republicans, and may provide the levers needed to drive many of them out of office. Also see The Dilemma Over How to Reproduce the Elite [Benjamin Studebaker, via Naked Capitalism 4-1-21]

Gaetz represents Florida’s 1st District, which cover the eastern panhandle. That was the CD represented by Joe Scarborough for four terms in 1995-2001. They sure do like their “characters” down there.


Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner dishes on Ted Cruz

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 4-2-2021]

I Have Come to Bury Ayn Rand
David Sloan Wilson, March 24, 2021 [nautilus]

A prominent evolutionary biologist slays the beast of Individualism….
Whether conveyed through philosophy or fiction, Rand’s worldview couldn’t function as a moral system if the pursuit of self-interest didn’t end up benefiting the common good. That’s where the invisible hand of the market comes in, a metaphor that was used only three times by Adam Smith in his voluminous writing, but was elevated to the status of a fundamental theorem by economists such as Milton Friedman and put into practice by Rand acolyte Alan Greenspan, who served as Chair of the United States Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006….

Individualism has long historical roots but didn’t become dominant in Western thought until the second half of the 20th century. Before then, it was common to think of society as a kind of organism in its own right, complete with a group mind. Individuals played their appointed roles in the social organism, but the whole society was the center of analysis. According to the Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner, “almost every early social theorist we now recognize as a contributor to modern social psychology held a similar view.”1

So, something happened around the middle of the 20th century that resulted in a sea change of thinking, from “society as an organism” to Margaret Thatcher’s famous quip “there is no such thing as society” in 1987. When I encountered it as a budding ecologist in the early 1970s, it offended my sensibilities.

US sinks to new low in rankings of world’s democracies

[The Guardian, via The Big Picture 3-28-2021]

The US has slipped 11 points in a decade – below Argentina and Mongolia – according the latest report by a democracy watchdog. Extreme partisan gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral district lines to boost one party over the other – has contributed to dramatic polarization in the US, threatening its democratic foundations. Gerrymandering, the report says, “has the most corrosive and radicalizing effect on US politics.”

The GOP Has No Interest in Actual Governing. Will the GOP reform itself, or must it die?

Thom Hartmann, April 2, 2021 [Common Dreams, via LA Progressive]

The GOP is no longer a serious political party. Instead, it’s now a coalition of disparate groups made up of racists, homophobes, misogynists, gun nuts, conspiracy theorists and the ultra-rich….

Elected Republicans, having no interest in actual governing, are instead using their position to grab what they want for themselves, their friends and their families, from nearly the entire Trump Cabinet to his Trade Representative to Matt Gaetz.

When Grover Norquist’s research showed that HR1, the For The People Act, was popular even with conservatives because it “prevents billionaires from buying elections,” the Republicans on the phone call decided they’d have to double down on their “under the dome strategy.”

“Under the dome” is GOP-speak for political obstruction in the state and federal capitols. Buying off legislators and twisting arms. Threatening the political futures of people who may do what’s best for the country but doesn’t enrich the billionaires. The sort of thing they’ve been all about for 40 years now, instead of the people’s business.

Conservative media has largely become an echo chamber of breathless outrage and wild disinformation based on wedge issues, and one result of 40 years of this kind of hype is that the number 1 domestic terrorist threat in the United States today is armed white men….

Because the GOP is so deeply captured and in debt to Libertarian billionaires it’s become politically impossible for an elected Republican to do anything to help average Americans.

Hundreds Of Far-Right Militias Are Still Organizing, Recruiting, And Promoting Violence On Facebook

[Buzzfeed, via The Big Picture 3-28-2021]

A new report identified more than 200 militia pages and groups on Facebook as of March 18, more than two months after the insurrection at the Capitol.




Open Thread


Only Zero Covid Worked and Everyone Knows It


  1. bruce wilder

    Inflation is coming because the struggle over the distribution of national income is about to get nasty for the mega-rich (it has been nasty for working classes since 1970)

    I want to see wages and wage rates rise. I do NOT think higher wages will drive inflation up. What will drive inflation up are desperate moves to prevent, or at least ease and cushion, a general collapse of asset prices.

    For the health of the country, it is necessary to swing against the tech monopolies and the financial “free money” scams, but success in that direction is likely to see some dramatic “adjustments”. Just seeing key interest rates rise into the more normal 5-6% range will radically deflate house prices and the stock market.

  2. Hugh

    So much of what I see on the web nowadays is what I call non-think. Just a standard reflex reaction pulled out of the file. So every time the government approves a major spending bill, the question isn’t: Is it needed? We move on immediately to INFLATION, how will we pay for it, a burden on future generations, etc. And we get all this from people who will be fine no matter what happens to the rest of us, who never care what it costs when it is something, like a big tax cut for the rich, that they want, and who have shown, often over a period of decades, that they hate the current crop of Americans and care even less about any of their possible descendants.

    As for the GOP, I have said for years that the difference between the two parties is that the Democrats govern badly and the Republicans don’t govern at all. Also I do not understand the reluctance, even hostility to accepting that the Republican party is A) a minority party and B) a fascist party. People who decry American exceptionalism in so many other areas here act as if the US is the one country, perhaps it is something in the water, where fascism can gain no hold. Yet for me, the political history of the last 20-30 years gets a lot clearer with a fascist minority Republican party. It also shows the bankruptcy of the Democrats who continue to push bipartisanship, comity, and the filibuster because these give them cover not to act, and more importantly, not take responsibility for their governance.

  3. Plague Species

    You’re right, Hugh, the GOP is hysterical about inflation. All this hysteria about potential inflation from governmental spending when inflation is already here and not accounted for properly in the statistics just as true unemployment is not accounted for properly in the statistics. It’s not inflation because of spending that’s already prevalent and has been for quite some time. It’s inflation by means of what’s required to live these days. There are many more requirements reaching inside our wallets in order to live and those many more requirements are effectively inflation. Fyi, this ranting diatribe is all about myself in case anyone was wondering and it wasn’t obvious.

  4. someofparts

    Bruce – I agree that the wealthy will fight against decent wages with everything they’ve got, but I am not sure the Fed will raise rates. If it does that will blow up a lot more than asset prices. Guess we will find out. My bet is that wages stay low and Republicans sweep the mid-terms.

    Hugh – I have thought the Republicans are a fascist party since Reagan. I tried to read Hannah Arendt’s book on totalitarianism and couldn’t stand it because her description of totalitarian personalities in 30s Germany was a perfect description of the people I worked with when I was employed by the local government.

    PS – You may be talking of yourself, but the rest of us are in the same boat. In my lifetime the basics of middle-class financial security have been priced out of my reach. My retirement now is nothing like it was for my parents, but a lot like it was for my grandmother before the New Deal.

  5. Hugh

    someofparts, Hannah Arendt had a heavy German academic writing style I had to wade through but I always learned things from reading her, even if I didn’t always agree or times had changed. She is one of the few writers where I read the footnotes and found them worth it even though that German scholarship thing created an enormous number of them.

  6. someofparts

    Hugh – As cumbersome as Arendt’s style can be, I found it to be orderly and possible to follow if I was patient. The one I have trouble with is Veblen.

  7. Hugh

    I forgot about Veblen, thankfully.

  8. someofparts

    lol – sorry I brought it up

  9. anon

    Mark Blyth’s comment about inflation and housing interested me because I’ve been looking at real estate. It is true that housing has become an investment for the rich. The top percentage of wage earners are the only ones who can afford to buy a house now, and when everything crashes the rich will just buy up more assets. The middle class will be priced out of the real estate market permanently. Their only hope is to hold onto their jobs and have the savings to buy a house in the next market correction or major economic crash.

    I saw another YouTube video commentary about how the top 50% of wage earners are buying second and third homes during this time. It makes sense because they have been the ones saving the most money for a down payment and paying off debt during the pandemic.

  10. Dale

    Just for beginners, our country needs to reinstate the Glass-Stegall Act and the Fairness Doctrine. But the present Democratic Party has no balls. So doubt it will ever happen.

  11. Plague Species

    THIS is why, one of many reasons, the Georgia Republicans were/are so mad at Raffensperger. He accommodated early voting by mailing absentee ballots to any and all thus helping to engender a record turnout. He learned his lesson and made sure not to do so for the runoff elections and he helped to make sure it won’t happen again going forward by supporting this draconian legislation. Hey Raffensperger you little back stepping cowardly weasel, why was it good enough for this past election but not now? We know why, Brad. I explained why. You’re a racist, Brad. If the record turnout translated to a Trump win and a Perdue and Loeffler win, this legislation never would have been considered. By the edicts of your own faith, Brad, may you and your fellow congregants who conjured this legislation and support it burn in the f*cking hell you believe in.

    The reaction to this legislation is not hysteria. The hyperbole being used to describe it is not unwarranted and misleading and unnecessarily inflammatory. This legislation is an abomination. This is 2021, not 1881 or 1901 or 1931 or 1951. There is no going back. Ever. Never. Is this unhinged enough for you, a**hole?

  12. Ché Pasa

    Real estate: In my area, there are currently seven houses for sale. One was just listed at $50,000 as is. It’s not trashed or in need of extensive repairs, but it needs some work. There’s little land with it, about a quarter acre, but it has city services (gas, electricity, water, sewer, garbage collection, and so forth) and is on a paved street. It should be snapped up within a few days for cash and my guess is it will be used as a rental at $1000-$1200 a month. And it will be rented quickly.

    Even though the force of the pandemic is dissipating, people are still moving to the country in droves, and there are few available and habitable places for people escaping the city to move to. We haven’t seen a habitable $50,000 property in this area for many years (not since the GFC), so this one is an anomaly, and I suspect there’s a reason why, but I don’t know what it is.

    We still hear a lot about “eviction moratoriums” that aren’t, yet the increase in homelessness, while real, is apparently not yet severe. Exactly what is happening is not entirely clear. Around here households were doubling/tripling up, but that phase seems to have passed. People are going back to work but so many businesses have closed permanently, and the ones still open have cut back. Where, then, are they working? That’s not entirely clear, either. (Hugh probably has a report detailing what’s up).

    We were inundated with stories about restaurants, gyms and salons that were able or unable to tough out the lockdowns, as if restaurants, gyms and salons were the “economy” or at least the only parts we needed to think about. It was odd. It still is. We really don’t know what’s happened to the economy, but we do know that millions of jobs are gone, and many won’t be coming back. We know that a large part of the economy is… well, fictional and non-essential. We know that essential parts of the economy were left to whither and die while much of the non-essential economy was propped up with tons and tons of money from the government. We know that hundreds of thousands have died during the past year from the consequences of the pandemic, but it seem that except by their loved ones, they aren’t missed. They were, after all, old, sick, poor, black and brown, mostly, so… the loss is inconsequential according to the standards of our libertarian overlords.

    We’re in a very strange period that seems to be prelude to something else, maybe much worse than the recent past.

  13. Hugh

    Ché Pasa, re covid, the BLS states “BLS does not make predictions about labor market data that we produce and distribute.”

    Even under best case scenarios, it would take a minimum of two-three years to re-employ all those who lost jobs because of the pandemic. However, it is important to point out that following the 2008 financial meltdown and the recession associated with it which actually began in December 2007, it took about 6 1/2 years just to get back to the pre-recession November 2007 level. This does not take into account the 12-15 million jobs that would have been created during this period without the GFC or an increased number of Boomers retiring. But the bottomline is that when we have a major economic shock and this is our second in 12 years, it takes years to recover and millions never get their jobs back.

    Plague Species, people like Kemp and Raffensperger were always pretty awful. It was just that Trump was so much worse. And as happened to so many other Trumpers, this did not prevent Trump from turning on them. So they came off looking better –for a while– but only in comparison to him. Once he was off stage, their usual loathsomeness and nastiness were easier to see again.

    I’ve seen that Trump now wants to be called “The 45th.” I take this as a reference to when he was back in school –in a class of 20.

  14. different clue


    The tragedy of democracy is that it can take decades for democratically-commanding majority-loads of people to decide on something and find and force the representatives into government who have decided the same way on the same something . . . . to do what that majority wants done about that something.

    And whereas it can take decades for that commanding majority to emerge, organize itself, conquer power, etc., it may only be a few years before the situation is unfixable anymore and we all slide down the far side of Hubbert’s Peak, all the way down Hubbert’s Slope, and come to our final resting place at the bottom of Hubbert’s Pit.

    And there’s the tragedy.

    But if we can live okay or even just okayish lives in the meantime, while making what survival preparations we can for what we think is happening or will happen or may happen, and we still have some energy and attention left over, why not try getting some society-wide political-level results through democratic means and methods?

    So people with Blue Doggy Democrat Representatives or Senators who want to purge and disobamafy and declintaminate all the Little Blue Doggies out of the Democratic Party could launch kamikaze primary challenges against their Blue Doggie Office Re-Seekers and leave them too badly damaged to be able to win their elections. Purge and burn the Democratic Party down to a neo-New Deal stub. And then permit it to grow only neo-New Deal branches back out from that stub.

    And if such a neo-New Deal DemParty could grow to Commanding Majority size, then it could do neo-New Deal things. And if it never does, then it never can and never will.

    And of course people who would rather work through some other party-movement or create a new party-movement to work through, could do that instead.

    Who knows what might work? Let different people try different things and let Darwin decide what works.

  15. Plague Species

    Plague Species, people like Kemp and Raffensperger were always pretty awful. It was just that Trump was so much worse. And as happened to so many other Trumpers, this did not prevent Trump from turning on them. So they came off looking better –for a while– but only in comparison to him. Once he was off stage, their usual loathsomeness and nastiness were easier to see again.

    Exactly. I agree.

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