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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 20, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“‘We conclude’ or ‘I believe?’ Study finds rationality declined decades ago”

[, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-17-2022]

“Analyzing language from millions of books, the researchers found that words associated with reasoning, such as ‘determine’ and ‘conclusion,’ rose systematically beginning in 1850, while words related to human experience such as ‘feel’ and ‘believe’ declined. This pattern has reversed over the past 40 years, paralleled by a shift from a collectivistic to an individualistic focus as reflected by the ratio of singular to plural pronouns such as ‘I’/’we.’ ‘Interpreting this synchronous sea-change in book language remains challenging,’ says co-author Johan Bollen of Indiana University. ‘However, as we show, the nature of this reversal occurs in fiction as well as non-fiction. Moreover, we observe the same pattern of change between sentiment and rationality flag words in New York Times articles, suggesting that it is not an artifact of the book corpora we analyzed.’ ‘Inferring the drivers of long-term patterns seen from 1850 until 1980 necessarily remains speculative,’ says lead author Marten Scheffer of WUR. ‘One possibility when it comes to the trends from 1850 to 1980 is that the rapid developments in science and technology and their socio-economic benefits drove a rise in status of the scientific approach, which gradually permeated culture, society, and its institutions ranging from the education to politics. As argued early on by Max Weber, this may have led to a process of ‘disenchantment’ as the role of spiritualism dwindled in modernized, bureaucratic, and secularized societies.” What precisely caused the observed reversal of the long-term trend around 1980 remains perhaps even more difficult to pinpoint. However, according to the authors there could be a connection to tensions arising from changes in economic policies since the early 1980s, which may have been defended on rational arguments but the benefits of which were not equally distributed.”

See chart here. TW: 1980 was the Reagan “revolution.”

Rhodes Center Podcast: ‘How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Policy”  Mark Blythe interview of Elizabeth Popp Berman

[Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, via YouTube 2-13-2022]

On this episode Mark talks with Elizabeth Popp Berman, Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan, and author of Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Public Policy. In it, she explains how in the middle of the 20th century a new kind of economic thinking took hold among policymakers at all levels of government. It replaced bold visions of justice and equality with a more technocratic style, one whose goals could be summed up in one word: efficiency. Over the last half century this quest for efficiency has guided policies in everything from public education to defense to environmental management. It’s dominance is also reflected in the wild proliferation of MPA programs that exist in American universities today that have cost-benefit analysis at their heart. Elizabeth and Mark discuss where this thinking came from, and why it appealed (and continues to appeal) to so many policymakers. They also talk about what’s lost in this focus on efficiency, and why it isn’t the panacea its advocates claim.

The cost / benefit analysis of Robert McNamara’s Vietnam War Defense Department is an overlooked but important root of today’s neoliberal / conservative political economy. Being forced to find numerical measures of performance and efficiency especially had brutal effects on education and welfar and medical care. 

The Constitution Was Meant to Guard Against Oligarchy

Chris Lehmann, February 10, 2022 [The New Republic]

A new book aims to recover the Constitution’s pivotal role in shaping claims of justice and equality….

But it’s the broader asymmetry here—which has an energetic, dogmatic conservative legal establishment continually seizing ground from an enervated liberal opposition—that’s the real sign of moral and imaginative decay in the America’s politics, in the courts and beyond them. Instead of ritually stigmatizing its extremist flank, the American right perennially finds new ways to empower its ardent apostles and advance its policy-cum-legal agenda; for all its plaints about the administrative state’s undemocratic excesses, it’s aggressively backloaded the judicial talent pool with hard-right nominees groomed by the Federalist Society. And meanwhile, instead of responding in kind with bold proposals to reimagine our core commitments to freedom, equality, and opportunity in an age of spiraling inequality, rampaging privatization, and depleted social goods, the proceduralist center conducts rearguard actions to preserve the appearance of comity, compromise, and bipartisan decorum….

In their rousing and authoritative study The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution, Joseph Fishkin and William E. Forbath attempt to recover the Constitution’s pivotal role in shaping claims of justice and equality. As they explain at the outset, they aim to revive what Franklin D. Roosevelt called the democracy-of-opportunity tradition, an ambitious constitutional project that stretched back to the arguments over the nation’s founding. According to this way of thinking, the central objective of republican reform was to ensure a broad equality of conditions both to permit maximum participation in public life and to serve as a robust safeguard against forces of corruption and tyranny. Only a roughly equal economic life could secure a just political order—and vice versa….

This understanding of constitutional politics reached its apogee, the authors argue, during the “second founding” undertaken by Radical Republicans in the Reconstruction era. Thaddeus Stevens, the leading Radical Republican on Congress’s Joint Committee on Reconstruction, argued, “The whole fabric of southern society must be changed … if the South is ever to be made a safe republic.” Republican institutions could not function, he observed, “in a mingled community of nabobs and serfs.”

The failures of Reconstruction, and the later rise of Jim Crow, bore out Stevens’s warning in detail. Stevens’s Joint Committee had laid out the stakes in its prophetic 1866 report: “Slavery, by building up a ruling and dominant class, had produced a spirit of oligarchy averse to republican institutions,” and to endorse a body of policies leaving this class “in the exclusive possession of political power, would be to encourage the same spirit.” The disputed presidential election of 1876—in which Congress brokered a victory for Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes—firmly restored the oligarchic planter class into power, while Northern political elites walked back their own prior allegiances to political economic equality for their own self-interested reasons….

This strategy of pushing for change by asserting faith in the Constitution yielded more than the popular election of senators—it also helped get women the right to vote, launch popular referenda and recall initiatives in a host of Progressive-led states, and propel state-level anti-monopoly and antitrust measures to help make up for the failure to enforce such protections at the federal level. And this Progressive-era vision of constitutional democracy also gave critical shape to the battery of state interventions engineered under FDR’s New Deal….

The real stakes of the court-packing conflict were questions that dogged the polity since the nation’s founding—questions of economic power. How could a republic sustain itself against forces of top-down economic domination? How can true political independence take hold among a permanent wage-earning class—something that the drafters of the Constitution never envisioned?

For proponents of the New Deal, this meant translating the principles of the Constitution for modern forms of economic organization and industrial relations. As New York Senator Robert Wagner explained, collective bargaining rights were anything but the assault on economic liberty that the New Deal’s detractors in the nation’s courts and boardrooms took them to be. “The fathers of our Nation did not regard freedom of contract as an abstract end,” he argued. “They valued it as a means of insuring equal opportunities, which cannot be attained when contracts are dictated by stronger parties.”

Wagner’s congressional allies pursued the same line of argument in championing Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the New Deal’s other ambitious efforts to establish and safeguard a roughly egalitarian socioeconomic order. The logic was simple: Transfer economic power to workers and ordinary Americans, and the institutions will follow….

The winners in this realignment have been the wealthy. “The most successful litigants before the Court since the mid-1970s have not been abortion-rights activists or racial minorities, but the Chamber of Commerce,” Fishkin and Forbath write. “Business interests have been unafraid to advance legal and constitutional arguments for a more laissez-faire constitutional political economy.” Indeed, the business capture of the Constitution has lately taken in many of the civil liberties guarantees in the Bill of Rights—notably the First Amendment guarantees of speech and freedom of worship, distorted out of all recognizable shape to secure the untrammeled corporate rights to political speech (in the disastrous 2010 Citizens United ruling) and discrimination on grounds of religious observance (in 2014’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores).

Such power grabs seem surreal bids to enshrine corporate prerogative as a first-order principle of constitutional rule, in defiance of all understandings of a republican political economy. But as Fishkin and Forbath note, they’ve been enabled in no small part by “a listless Democratic party” that “attempted with varying degrees of success to build a political coalition that bypassed questions of political economy—and viewed labor as just one Democratic constituency, and a dwindling one.” This colossal tactical error has been compounded by the lingering centrist deference to a long-outworn image of the Supreme Court as a grand impartial arbiter of constitutional outcomes.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-19-2022]


TW: USA industrialization was driven by its railroad construction in the 1800s. By contrast today: 

“BIF: The Growth of US Railroads” (podcast)

[Congressional Dish, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-18-2022]

“The infrastructure law provides the most significant investment in passenger rail in U.S. history, but substantial hurdles – including a powerful cartel – stand firmly in the way of a real national network. In this episode, learn the ways the infrastructure law paves the way for a better future for passenger rail along with the significant obstacles that it failed to address.”

“The White House Is Going After One of Climate Change’s Thorniest Problems”

[The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-18-2022]

“A set of recent announcements shows that Biden’s biggest ambitions for the climate and the economy are not quite dead yet. Yesterday, the White House unveiled a slew of policies aimed at overhauling the U.S. industrial sector in order to reduce its planet-warming carbon pollution. Many of the policies have bipartisan backing—they were authorized in last year’s infrastructure bill. These policies are a big deal because they could help solve one of decarbonization’s thorniest problems: how to make steel, concrete, chemicals, and other major industrial products in a zero-carbon way. These products typically rely on fossil fuels to generate intense heat or provide a raw-material input, which is part of why the industrial sector is responsible for more than 20 percent of global emissions. However crucial these policies are for the planet, they are arguably even more important as a matter of political economy. They signal a profound and bipartisan change in how the federal government presides over the economy: In order to bring new technologies to market, Washington is willing to act as an investor, matchmaker, and consumer for fledgling innovations. It will design markets to serve public needs, cut loans that banks won’t write, and ensure competition among linchpin firms. The government, in short, is ready to care about stuff again, the real-world economy of flesh and steel. That it is furthering its climate and China goals at the same time is exactly the point.” Hydrogen production. Hydrogen electrolysis. “A ‘Buy Clean’ task force that will use the government’s power to help bring low-carbon steel, concrete, and asphalt to the market.”

Lambert Strether adds: “Interestingly, the Biden administration contemplates not just plans or [gag] tax incentives, but the construction of actual factories.”  TW: which would be a significant breech of neoliberal nostrums. 

The epidemic

Risk of Long COVID explained 

Don Ford [via Naked Capitalism 2-15-2022]

Lambert Strether: A must read. Circulate widely. From what I can tell, even though this piece is written in a very layperson-friendly manner, its statements are accurate. Particularly alarming is a chart that confirms what we’ve been saying, that the vaccines offer virtually no protection from long Covid. The frequency and duration of long Covid also is worse than widely assumed. And another nasty feature: long Covid symptoms can develop months after infection.

Disrupting mainstream economics

A short history of public borrowing for wars

[FRED Blog — Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, via Mike Norman Economics 2-17-2022]

The Case for Permanent Wartime Economics — Matthew C. Klein

[Barron’s, via Mike Norman Economics 2-16-2022]

Stephanie Kelton would probably have done some things differently, but she couldn’t have asked for a better political and economic backdrop for her new book, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy. While the book is structured as a rebuttal to common misconceptions held by politicians and the general public about government finance, it is ultimately a plea to use permanent wartime mobilization for civilian ends.…

More confirmation that Central Banks create money

Peter May [Progressive Pulse, via Mike Norman Economics 2-16-2022]

Christine LaGarde, president of the ECB, goes all in “MMT” in the sense of the basic principle being that a currency sovereign has a monopoly over the currency as the sole currency issuer. In the EZ, that would be the ECB, to whom European nations have ceded currency sovereignty by treaty.

Key economic policy organisations still claim that public spending undermines private spending
Bill Mitchell | Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

It is hard to imagine that so little progress has been made in dismantling the mainstream macroeconomics paradigm over the last decade within the institutions of government. We have had the GFC, and now, the pandemic to disclose what does and does not happen when governments engage in relatively large fiscal shifts, yet the fictional world that is taught in mainstream university programs and echoed in policy making circles keeps being rehearsed. While researching the literature on rates of return on public infrastructure spending for a project (book chapter) I am working on at present, I came across the starkness of the mainstream deception. They are still claiming that public spending damages private spending….

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Their Bionic Eyes Are Now Obsolete and Unsupported

[IEEE Spectrum, via Naked Capitalism 2-17-2022]

These three patients, and more than 350 other blind people around the world with Second Sight’s implants in their eyes, find themselves in a world in which the technology that transformed their lives is just another obsolete gadget. One technical hiccup, one broken wire, and they lose their artificial vision, possibly forever. To add injury to insult: A defunct Argus system in the eye could cause medical complications or interfere with procedures such as MRI scans, and it could be painful or expensive to remove.

Larry Fink’s Capitalist Shell Game

Mariana Mazzucato [Project Syndicate, via Naked Capitalism 2-13-2022]

The chairman and CEO of the world’s largest asset manager has once again made waves by exhorting his fellow corporate leaders to embrace “stakeholder capitalism.” Unfortunately, their understanding of that concept is far too limited and stops well short of the radical reforms needed to transform capitalism in the interests of people and the planet.

Printers warn on growing paper shortages 

[FT, via Naked Capitalism 2-14-2022]

“Not a Rare to Spare”

[Doomberg, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-14-2022]

“Lanthanides are mission critical to the global economy. Without getting too technical, lanthanides have unpaired electrons in their ground state configurations making them excellent candidates for use as magnets in anything with an electric motor. As efforts are made to move away from fossil fuels and to decarbonize our energy sector, the efficiency of electric motors in converting electricity to useful work becomes supremely attractive. Magnets are at the core of electric motor technology. There aren’t many scenarios in which our future work won’t be strongly dependent on motors, and therefore magnets, and therefore lanthanides. There are few viable alternatives. And therein lies the rub: everybody wants them but getting them is tough. Lanthanides form the bulk of what are colloquially known as the rare earth elements, although they aren’t all that rare. Rather, they are assigned that descriptor because economically feasible deposits of lanthanides are difficult to come by – when the elements are discovered in high enough concentrations to be mined, they are found together in complex mixtures that require substantial effort to further purify.” And: “In a story arc that will be all too familiar to Doomberg readers, for decades the US had a near monopoly on the mining and refining of rare earth elements, only to cede control over most of the value chain to China.” • Imagine that!

‘It’s Going to End Up Like Boeing’: How Freight Rail Is Courting Catastrophe

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-14-2022]

About precision railroading, which readers have mentioned, so still germane though from 2021. Starts with a discussion of a derailment: “To be sure, even on well-run freight railways or rigorously regulated airlines, accidents still happen. And at first glance, the derailment in Hyndman appeared to be just another accident. NTSB investigators found the train derailed largely because of a combination of improper braking procedures and the empty cars being in the front of the train. Long trains have an accordion effect where they expand and contract as they brake and accelerate.” The recent derailment at Sante Fe junction (which got me watching their live webcam religiously) looks like it was caused by empty cars too. More: “According to interviews with current and former rail workers, union officials, and independent experts, the Hyndman derailment and others like it are the all-too-predictable result of nearly all the major freight rail companies adopting a business approach called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR). Proponents of PSR say it is about leveraging modern technology to improve efficiency. But those who work on the railroads every day say it is little more than a euphemism for draconian cost-cutting in order to achieve an arbitrary metric that pleases shareholders. That metric, called an “operating ratio,” must get below 60 percent, which means only 60 percent of every dollar earned goes towards actually running the railroads. The rest can go towards executive pay and shareholder dividends.” • Can readers comment further on Precision Scheduled Railroading? This sounds like something we should keep an eye on.

Efficiency and the Decline of American Freight Railroads
Uday Schultz, December 27, 2021 [homesignalblog, via comments in Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-14-2022]

Having left the 1970s with few course corrections from government policy, railroads seized deregulation to shape the traffic they carried to their efficiency-driven vision of their own futures, creating the highly profitable but largely stagnant rail network we know today. Deregulation allowed carriers to offer deeper and contract-based discounts to large bulk shippers, demarket unprofitable or marginally profitable traffic and abandon lines more quickly. Over the 20 years following deregulation, the railroad network shrank and traffic shifted towards unit trains and intermodal: railroading’s reality converged rapidly with the productivity-centric vision of managers.

The conventional narrative around the results of these changes is one of rejuvenation and success. Commentators argue that, though railroad managements shrank the network’s scale and scope, the leaner railroads they created were more competitive, driving increased traffic and renewed fiscal health. Reality is, however, more murky. Traffic on American rails did grow following deregulation, but a closer look at the composition of that growth reveals that carriers essentially got lucky. Of the 21 categories of railroad traffic defined by the American Association of Railroads, only 7 grew from 1980 to 2006, when American rail volumes reached their all-time high….

Intermodal’s success is a similar story. Though railroads had initially marketed intermodal as a premium service for higher-end shippers, the explosion of intermodal traffic following deregulation was in large part attributable to sharply increasing volumes of international container trade. These movements were the stuff of dreams for railroads. Shipping essentially concentrates the freight traffic generated by thousands of factories across the globe in a handful of port districts in a country. This often creates intense congestion and environmental despoilment around ports, but also makes imported containers a natural companion for railroads’ strategic emphasis on high-volume freight movements: their geography is one of heavy and concentrated traffic. They also did not need to move quickly. Container importers generally do not seek speed — these boxes spend weeks on ships, after all — rather striving to minimize costs, furthering their compatibility with railroads’ strategies. It was these international boxes, which in 2007 comprised about 60 percent of American rail intermodal volumes, that fueled the near-tripling of intermodal traffic from 1980 to 2006. In other words, railroads succeeded because their low-cost, heavy-haul service strategy happened to converge with the evolving geography of global industrialism.

What did this incredible fortune in coal and intermodal mean for railroads’ position in the overall landscape of transport competition? Rail carriers entered their crisis because the pro-truck lean of surface transport policy converged with productivity-oriented service strategies to lose carriers their high-margin, service-sensitive traffic at a time of rising costs. The mark of a true railroad recovery, then, would be railroads recapturing more high-value traffic — in other words, increasing their share of all intercity freight revenue. Since 1980, the opposite has happened. From 20 percent in 1980, rail carriers share of freight revenues fell below 10 percent in 2001, and has remained in that range ever since. Carriers’ profits and returns on investment have risen, but the inescapable reality of post-deregulation railroading is that its emphasis on the most productive types of traffic constrain its earning and transportational potential to the segments of the transport market wherein price trumps service.

Arbitration Antics: Warren, Porter, Press Regulator to Explain Yet Another Way Wells Fargo Found to Game the System

[Naked Capitalism 2-14-2022]

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep Katie Porter press regulator for answers as to how Wells Fargo apparently gamed the arbitration system.

Climate and environmental crises

Microplastics increase the toxicity of organic pollutants in the environment by a factor of 10

[Tel-Aviv University, via Naked Capitalism 2-17-2022]

Information age dystopia

CIA collecting bulk data on Americans without oversight, senators say 

[Ars Technica, via Naked Capitalism 2-13-2022]

Matthew Guariglia and Andrew Crocker [Common Dreams, via Mike Norman Economics 2-15-2022]

Israel Is Dangerously Close to Legitimising the Use of Pegasus on Its Citizens 

[The Wire, via Naked Capitalism 2-13-2022]

“Which Vehicles Will Lose Safety Features After 3G Shutdown This Month?” 

[Newsweek, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-16-2022]

“As part of the ongoing rollout of 5G wireless technology in the U.S., cellular carriers will begin phasing out 3G services later this month to make room for the faster network. As a result, a number of vehicles will begin losing safety features designed around 3G technology. Some vehicles will lose access to these features by the end of February, while others will lose them over the course of 2022.” • Cars are named, but this doesn’t seem to be an exhaustive list.

“EE380 Talk”

[David Rosenthal, DSHR’s Blog, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-15-2022]

A brutal must-read. “Bitcoin is notorious for consuming as much electricity as the Netherlands, but there are around 10,000 other cryptocurrencies, most using similar infrastructure and thus also in aggregate consuming unsustainable amounts of electricity. Bitcoin alone generates as much e-waste as the Netherlands, cryptocurrencies suffer an epidemic of pump-and-dump schemes and wash trading, they enable a $5.2B/year ransomware industry, they have disrupted supply chains for GPUshard disks, SSDs and other chips, they have made it impossible for web services to offer free tiers, and they are responsible for a massive crime wave including fraudthefttax evasion, funding of rogue states such as North Koreadrug smuggling, and even as documented by Jameson Lopp’s list of physical attacks, armed robbery, kidnapping, torture and murder.”

Lambert Strether: “Worth reading in full, as Rosenthal explains how all the parts of the Bitcoin “ecosystem” perversely fit together. Oh, and: “Libertarianism’s attraction is based on ignoring externalities, and cryptocurrencies are no exception.”

The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

Politicians in Robes 

Laurence Tribe [New York Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 2-13-2022]

Lambert Strether:  “Larry minces no words in this takedown of Breyer’s claim that the Supreme Court is apolitical. Worth registering to leap the paywall to read this piece.”

Disrupting mainstream politics

“What AOC Learned From Trump”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-17-2022]

On AOC’s New Yorker profile: “What divides AOC and her allies from others in the party is above all a theory of power: How to gain it, how to use it, how to keep it. It is a difference grounded in a cultural mindset about how politics should look, sound and feel. It is a difference grounded much less in ideology than meets the eye…. The lesson many Democrats have learned from watching two previous Republican presidents — Donald Trump and George W. Bush, both of whom took office under disputed circumstances with a minority of the popular vote — is that political realities can be shaped by self-confident proclamation. Power can be seized by equally self-confident assertion. They did it on behalf of what the left saw as a benighted agenda that favored racists and the wealthy. No reason progressives can’t do it on behalf of an enlightened agenda — and awaken a robust majority that would be there if only people were presented sharp choices rather than blurry ones. Meanwhile, these same people see the last two Democratic presidents — Obama and Bill Clinton — squandering their opportunities and disappointing natural supporters through constant calibration and by pretending that it is still the 1970s, and that the political game as the establishment plays it is still somehow on the level. The Bush-Trump model is based on mobilization of natural allies. The Clinton-Obama model is based on a forlorn effort at persuasion of a dwindling group of people attracted by cautious, middle-of-the-road politics. That is why AOC in the New Yorker urged Biden to forget about congressional approval and simply cancel student loan debt by executive order…. As she evangelizes for one side of this argument, AOC is not just confronting moderate adversaries like fellow Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer (N.J.) She’s also confronting Obama. While she poormouths Biden’s win on public works infrastructure as small and disappointing, the former president lectured Democratic lawmakers the other day, according to Punchbowl News, to ‘take the wins you can get,’ and that ‘it doesn’t help to whine about the stuff you can’t change.’”

Lambert Strether summarizes: “Shorter AOC: “Obama can’t get it up.” For example:

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-17-2022]

In New Yorker interview, Ocasio-Cortez defends Biden and Pelosi, urges readers not to lose “hope” in reforming two-party system 

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 2-17-2022]

Democrats Helped Build The Social Safety Net. Why Are Many Now Against Expanding It? 

[FiveThirtyEight, via Naked Capitalism 2-17-2022]

The rich vs. the civic republic

“Erik Prince and an Army of Spies Keep Meddling in US Politics”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 2-18-2022]

“This is what happens when a political economy allows people to endlessly and unproductively hoard wealth. Project Veritas, like the entire galaxy of right-wing think tanks, organizations, media outlets, and advocacy groups out there, largely exists by the grace of piles and piles of oligarchic cash sitting around, as the Times’ reporting makes clear. It’s hard to conceptualize, but when so many people have quantities of money so far in excess of what they need to meet their basic needs and lead a comfortable, carefree life, they’ll find other outlets to throw all this idle cash into — organizations like Project Vertitas being one of them. Note, too, that political corruption is also part of the reason why Project Veritas was able to succeed with this scheme. In a separate report last year, the Times detailed how the group’s operatives were able to infiltrate Democratic Party circles and work to sabotage what they considered threats to Trump’s agenda by using campaign donations as a lever. The undercover operatives gave hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to candidates, state parties, and other Democratic entities, and as a result gained access to exclusive party events, the candidates themselves, as well as a pro-Democratic initiative run by wealthy liberal donors meant to back moderate Republicans in Wyoming, gathering valuable information all the while. The parties’ reliance on big donors directly opens them up to such shenanigans.”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 2-18-2022]

This really is striking at the heart of civic republicanism. See Horace Mann, “The Necessity of Education in a Republican Government,” delivered during Mann’s third lecture tour as Massachusetts Secretary of Education, autumn 1839. 

If republican institutions do wake up unexampled energies in the whole mass of a people, and give them implements of unexampled power wherewith to work out their will; then these same institutions ought also to confer upon that people unexampled wisdom and rectitude. If these institutions give greater scope and impulse to the lower order of faculties belonging to the human mind, then, they must also give more authoritative control, and more skilful guidance to the higher ones. If they multiply temptations, they must fortify against them. If they quicken the activity and enlarge the sphere of the appetites and passions, they must, at least in an equal ratio, establish the authority and extend the jurisdiction of reason and conscience. In a word, we must not add to the impulsive, without also adding to the regulating forces.

And, by contrast:

“The Education of a Libertarian”

Peter Thiel [Cato Institute, 2009, via Naked Capitalism 2-18-2022]

“The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron. In the face of these realities, one would despair if one limited one’s horizon to the world of politics. I do not despair because I no longer believe that politics encompasses all possible futures of our world. In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms — from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called ‘social democracy.’ The critical question then becomes one of means, of how to escape not via politics but beyond it. Because there are no truly free places left in our world, I suspect that the mode for escape must involve some sort of new and hitherto untried process that leads us to some undiscovered country; and for this reason I have focused my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom. Let me briefly speak to three such technological frontiers: (1) Cyberspace…. (2) Outer space… (3) Seasteading….”

I think it is instructive to compare Mann, 1839, to Thiel, 2009, by the benchmark of “‘We conclude’ or ‘I believe?’ Study finds rationality declined decades ago”, linked above under Strategic Political Economy.

Koch Machine Pressing Supreme Court To Crush EPA

Andrew Perez [The Daily Poster, February 7, 2022]

Fossil fuel interests are hoping that the Supreme Court will deliver “a broad rule that the EPA can’t use the Clean Air Act to tackle any significant new problem without going back to Congress each time for new, and very detailed, legislation,” noted David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate & Clean Energy program. “They’re counting on lobbyists and dark money to keep Congress gridlocked, so that those new laws are impossible to pass.”

….The Koch network’s chief political arm, Americans for Prosperity, led campaigns supporting the confirmation of all three of Trump’s Supreme Court justices: Amy Coney BarrettBrett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch. Barrett’s confirmation was a particularly significant win for the fossil fuel industry — she has familial ties to Shell Oil, and refused to recuse herself in a case involving that oil giant.

Despite the Koch network spending on their confirmation battles, none of the trio decided to recuse themselves last year when the court ruled in favor of the Koch organization’s charitable affiliate, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, in a decision invalidating California’s requirement that nonprofits disclose their donors to state regulators.  [See Supreme Court rules for conservative charities in challenge to donor disclosure, USA Today, July 1, 2021]

…. In December, Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that the EPA should not be permitted to “impose its will on the nation through regulatory diktat.”

“It is not this court’s role to choose between competing visions for how these subjects should be addressed. Instead, this case is about which branch of government, under the existing constitutional structure, is entitled to make major policy decisions of vast political and economic importance, like those at issue here, and by what process,” the foundation wrote. “At the federal level, the answer is Congress, through duly enacted legislation, subject to constitutional constraints on federal power.”

Several more Koch-funded dark money groups have filed similar amicus briefs in the case. That includes the Cato Institute, the New Civil Liberties Alliance, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

Protecting the U.S. Postal Service from Amazon’s Anticompetitive Assaul (PDF)

Hal Singer and Ted Tatos [Econ One, via Naked Capitalism 2-18-2022]

The committee behind a Massachusetts app-based driver initiative reported over $17.8 million in contributions”

[Ballotpedia, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-14-2022]

“Massachusetts voters could decide on an initiative in November to classify app-based drivers as independent contractors similar to California’s 2020 Proposition 22. Flexibility and Benefits for Massachusetts Drivers, the committee registered to support the app-based driver initiative, reported receiving $17.8 million in 2021. The committee’s largest donor was Lyft, which contributed nearly $14.4 million in cash and in-kind contributions. Other contributors included Instacart ($1.2 million), Door Dash ($1.2 million), and Uber ($1 million). The campaign submitted over 200,000 signatures for two versions of the initiative in early December and was certified to the legislature by the secretary of state late last month. Both versions of the Massachusetts initiative would classify app-based drivers as independent contractors and enact several labor policies. The versions are identical except Version A would require paid occupational safety training before drivers could access a company’s platform or mobile application. On Jan. 18, opponents of the Massachusetts initiative filed a lawsuit with the Massachusetts ​​Supreme Judicial Court arguing that the initiative violates the state’s constitutional requirement that subjects of an initiative are “mutually dependent,” and therefore it should not appear on the 2022 ballot. The initiative is modeled after California Proposition 22, which was approved by ​​58.63% of voters in 2020. However, it was ruled unconstitutional by an Alameda County Superior Court judge in 2021. The judge ruled that Proposition 22 unconstitutionally limited the power of the legislature and that it violated the state’s single-subject rule.”

The Outrageous Story About the Postal Service Too Many Know Nothing About

Thom Hartmann [Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 2-14-2022]

Following a 16-year bet Republicans laid down in 2006 to block Postal EVs, DeJoy just told Biden to go screw himself: he’s going to buy fossil-fuel vehicles for 90% of the fleet instead of electric. The Republicans are about to win a major battle in their war on electric vehicles, this time with the second largest vehicle fleet in America owned by the US Postal Service.

The dark side
Heather Cox Richardson, February 17, 2022 [Letters from an American]

Trump and his loyalists are setting up the idea that any attempt to hold Trump and his allies accountable for illegal activities—including the attempt to overturn the 2020 election and thereby destroy our democracy—is a partisan attack. While that argument will undermine the rule of law, there is a twist to it: if Republicans can convince their voters that Democrats have engaged in partisan prosecutions of Trump and his allies, the Republicans can justify partisan prosecutions of Democrats as soon as they get the opportunity, just as Gingrich suggested. If this rhetoric works, Trump can undercut legitimate prosecutions, while Democrats will become fair game for partisan prosecutors.

Senate Republicans Unveil Tactic to Potentially Block All Biden Nominees

David Dayen, February 16, 2022 [The American Prospect]

An escalation in Republican obstruction of executive branch nominees potentially threatens the ability to get any of the Biden administration’s vacant positions filled, unless Democrats mount a drive to change Senate rules or recess-appoint the nominees.

The tactic involves Republicans boycotting committee markups, a typically routine procedure in which legislative action gets voted on and nominations get advanced. Because of complicated Senate rules, this makes it effectively impossible to get nominees a vote on the Senate floor, even if the nominee has the 50 Senate votes necessary to be confirmed.

Follow the Money Behind Senator Pat Toomey and His Boycott of the Vote on Fed Nominees

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, February 16, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]


If Russia Invades


Is Trudeau an Authoritarian for Using POGG Powers Against the Truckers?


  1. bruce wilder

    The juxtaposition of the piece on the downtrend in the rhetoric of rational reasoning and the Mark Blyth interview with Elizabeth Popp Berman somehow worked well for me. Rejecting “efficiency” out of hand is anti-rational, but it was interesting that the folks would make a connection to Reagan and neoliberalism.

    . . . there could be a connection to tensions arising from changes in economic policies since the early 1980s, which may have been defended on rational arguments . . . .

    It made for a very suitable prologue to the Blyth / Berman interview, which did turn over and over how powerful and appealing the neoliberal economic arguments were, Blyth terming them a kind of “universal acid” capable of destroying alternative and previous frameworks seemingly upon contact.

  2. bruce wilder

    I do think the neoliberal style of neoclassical economic reasoning can be intensely frustrating for some people, particularly those who might want to advocate for progressive or leftish programs of government regulation or public goods provision. And, one suspects that frustration was a design goal of those repurposing neoclassical economics for neoliberal purposes. Blyth and Berman do note in passing that right-wing neoliberals never seemed to feel constrained by their reasoning and would drop the whole framework in any domain it did not promise to deliver on their desiderata, while it was the liberal and centrist neoliberals — the “left” neoliberals — who seemed to feel themselves constrained by (neoliberal) reason.

    There is some intellectual sleight-of-hand involved in neoclassical economic analyses and like all trickery and deception, it can catch people up in the pointless task of unraveling exactly how or when in the sequence of moves, the card was palmed or dealt from the bottom of the deck. In economics, it is a fair bet that the Ace was buried in the assumptions dealt at first ante.

    The thing about rational discourse is that it detaches arguments and evidence from the subjectivity of the individual. The point of argument is not to persuade your interlocutor to accept your point-of-view per se, but to accept common reality and necessity from her own point-of-view. We can agree on a measure of the room temperature, while disagreeing on whether the room is warm or cool. Rational argument facilitates cooperation even while allowing us to have our own experiences and to agree to disagree on many subjective valuations.

    Economic arguments are often deployed in contexts and in ways that imply you are not allowed to disagree or oppose: the neoliberal “there is no alternative”!

    Neoclassical economics is fundamentally deceptive, I think, but challenging those fundamental deceptions does not work well as far as I can see, to convince those disinterested in economics to think about economics nor to convince economists to make better arguments.

    I am not a big fan of MMT, but they make some good points. That they connect their theory of money creation to the actual mechanics of money creation is, for example, a good, positive step in the direction of a truly rational discourse, one with references to actual institutional mechanisms and processes. That is how one gets to a shared reality of objective references for key terms. Someone like Krugman naturally resists, insisting, for example on “flow of funds”, an intellectually indefensible framework that turns solipsistic very easily.

    I have made the point that neoclassical economics slips, without announcing the substitution, into a sole focus on “allocative effeciency” when ideologically convenient and then never owns the consequences. (I was impressed that Berman mentioned the narrow focus on allocative efficiency as a deceptive move in antitrust analysis during her interview with Blyth. Stoller does not get that.)

    Berman and Blyth make the point near the end of the interview that overthrowing efficiency per se does not make much sense, which serves to keep economics in the driver’s seat despite the manifest failure to arrive at the supposedly intended destination.

    It looks to me as if we either get smarter or go home, and I am not optimistic about people getting smarter — not a lot of willingness.

    PS I confess to being addicted to TikTok. Yes, I like to watch pretty people being silly, in small doses (not sure going from 1_min videos to 3 min was a good idea — dosing is important in addiction). But, the algorithm knows all and today I was served a clip of Milton Friedman making his argument about the pencil — “no one knows how to make a pencil” (in the entirety of the tasks involved) but the miracle of markets makes it so thru decentralized coordination across the globe without coercion [that is his argument] — and the comments were mostly hostile. So maybe there is some hope of rejecting the deception.

  3. Trinity

    The FiveThirtyEight article is especially interesting to me. They use the language of narcissism without invoking narcissism. Yet it is right there in their article, all over the place.

    Narcissism is all about control, control of the narrative, control of other people’s thoughts and feelings, all in service for hiding their insanity and promoting their social worthiness. Trump exemplified their raging need to hide their inadequacy by constantly declaring how special he was, how important he was, how productive and smart and better than everyone else he was, a type of narrative management some people apparently bought into.

    “But despite claiming to prioritize new ways of improving our society, Democrats don’t always act in ways that are rooted in research. ”

    Because they have an agenda, a need to address, a thirst to quench. The author seeks to answer this and similar questions regarding puzzling Democrat behavior, but never really does. This is the hook narcissists use, they know you will assume they are rational, because you are rational. They use that against you to hide their lack of rationality in plain sight.

    “Indeed, politicians across the political spectrum have found a number of scapegoats to use while arguing against expanding the social safety net, including playing to Americans’ fears about rising inflation rates.”

    Narcissists always pick scapegoats, Hitler did it, and now US politicians are doing it. Another telltale sign of narcissism (or worse) at work. The author then shares another puzzling thing:

    “if you actually look at most social science research, investing in the social safety net is fiscally responsible — it pays large dividends for both individuals and our collective society.” Of course it does, but this is the last thing narcissists want. You can’t control someone’s actions, thoughts, and beliefs if those same people also believe they are your equal or (even worse) better than you.

    Confusion always reigns when examining narcissistic behavior. It’s always the same rational thinking applied to non-rational behavior. We keep doing this, expecting a rational outcome, and rational behavior, from non-rational “humans”.

    Then: “Yet, rather than acting on it, there has been a tendency to highlight stories and tropes about people who might waste the resources invested in them.” Right back to scapegoats, which serve power by distracting and refocusing responsibility/accountability away from the narcissists.

    Then, a feeble attempt to explain it away: “So what we’re seeing from some “moderate” Democrats today is likely born out of an inherent distrust of what might happen if you just give people money or help them”.

    The author then goes on to explain that earlier Democrats were different. Indeed some were, but this is a “well, duh” explanation. The author then follows that by explaining that it’s really about race. It’s not. It’s still about control, and exerting stronger control of races that historically are more communal is a requirement for maintaining that control. It’s never really been about skin color, and arguments that it is about skin color are to distract attention away from what it’s really about: control.

    Then more scapegoats: “That was particularly true in the 1970s and ’80s when conservative and right-wing political candidates vilified Americans on welfare.” Ronald Reagan warmed up the crowd, and Bill Clinton brought the crowd home: “Democrats, however, weren’t that different either. Former Democratic President Bill Clinton’s promise to “end welfare as we know it” in the 1990s included stipulations like requiring a certain percentage of welfare recipients to be working or participate in job training.”

    This “certain percentage”, which doesn’t make any rational sense, but definitely makes irrational sense as yet another a way to control who gets what, guaranteed to short change skin colors that historically are more communal.

    Yet the author remains puzzled. “But all of this implicit rhetoric about reducing government waste by cracking down on marginalized people does not hold up to scrutiny when examining the evidence. The reality is that fraud among social safety net beneficiaries is extremely rare, and much less costly to society than, say, tax evasion among the richest 1 percent. Yet we spend an incredible amount of money trying to catch and penalize the poor instead of helping them.”

    And still puzzled: “a CNN/SSRS poll found that 75 percent of the [Democrat] party’s voters (and 6 percent of Republicans) preferred that Congress pass a bill that expanded the social safety net and enacted climate-change policies.”

    The author then explains all this away: “makes it all the easier for Democrats to fall back on the stories people tell themselves about different groups of people and whether they deserve help” without questioning where those stories come from (Big Media).

    The author remains confused (or worse, is he mansplaining): “The fact that so many of today’s Democrats are still prisoners to antiquated tropes about who gets — or is deserving of — government benefits is a dangerous one”. The author also wildly underestimates the real cause, and how very dangerous the very real effects of these people’s actions. Narcissists, who abide in a fantasy world of their own design, probably aren’t even capable of acknowledging those very real effects in a very real world, the one the rest of us abide in. But they will always seek to control the narrative such that the real world resembles their fantasy one. If you believed you were Ghandi reincarnated, wouldn’t you do anything so that people interact with you as if you really were Ghandi?

    The final paragraph is a feeble call for the Democrats to change their thinking. I sincerely doubt that will ever happen, unless we also change which Democrats are doing the thinking (and we also understand that they won’t let us do so in the traditional, now-highly-controlled ways).

  4. bruce wilder

    dark triad of the (pseudo-)left?

  5. Willy

    I had an idiot once tell me that expressed confidence was the primary indicator of ability. He was a classic believer-not-concluder. I looked him up after twenty some years and yeah, he’s a Trump supporter.

    I really wish I’d had more time to mull over our “conclude or believe” culture. I could go on about that time Candace Owens told Rogan she ‘just doesn’t believe in climate change’, providing nothing of substance to back that belief, with that obvious folly not hindering her advancement to becoming our national poster girl for the way conservatives want their black women to be. Doesn’t everybody want a girl who blindly believes in all the strong white conservative male narratives? But that’s them, not us, right?

    I was at a niece’s wedding party seated with my wife alongside a distant relative who with her spouse, were known names in the movie editing biz. Retired from Hollywood, they wanted to create a mini-documentary about the decline of American worker power and how this is effecting American economic prospects at every level. Right up my alley of personal experience. I had lots of stories to tell, ready to name names and up for some serious mudslinging. Both of them were obvious liberals.

    My wife was a union worker who cared little about politics. Yet they sat in rapt attention as she told them things easily learned online. Whenever I tried to interject or offer ideas of my own from the white-collar gig-economy perspective, I’d be politely ignored without explanation. They didn’t have to believe a word I said, but I did know people of substance who had good stories to tell.

    Then I remembered that this was that wing of my family where the leadership de jour (a strong white male conservative) was pushing the belief that I was an inconsequential loser, probably incapable of diagnosing American ills.

    I dunno. Somebody else once told me that “the need for cognitive closure” is an illness which is endemic in our world, so people prefer to believe instead of conclude. To avoid the stress of it I quess. Or to save time.

  6. different clue

    About “knowing the Narcissist enemy” . . . is there a helpful distinction to be made between the general pop-psychobabble attribution of “narcissism” to someone as against the detection of genuine ToxiClinical Narcissism on the part of today’s Democratic Party leadership, for example?

    If an entire political institution of tens of thousands of OverLords, Leaders, Apparatchiks and functionaries has become a Clinically Narcissistic institution, then even interacting with it is destructive to the interactor. If so, people who want to achieve something for themselves, eachother, and people sort-of-like them will have to find other institutions, communities, etc. to act through or interact with. Or they will have to create and evolve such institutions and communities themselves.

    And since the Clinical Narcissist Democratic Party is self-preserving and self-replicating, the only rational approach to it would be to attempt to exterminate it, if the effort can be spared from more immediate survivalist efforts and projects.

  7. Soredemos

    Welp, looks like everyone of us useful idiots who said there wouldn’t be a Russian invasion of Ukraine are revealed to be complete fucking dumbasses. No, it’s totally not an invasion guys. They just ‘acknowledged the independence’ of part of another country and will now peacefully move their military in. They probably wont roll on to Kiev, but the Russian Federation grew today, again at the expense of Ukraine. I could defend the first time with Crimea, but I won’t attempt to defend this.

    Some of those Russian troops ‘out on maneuvers’ really were being deployed to occupy Ukraine. Yes the media did lots of lying and cropping of images, but fundamentally the Russian masking of troops wasn’t benign.

    I never want to hear about Russian commitment to international law or sovereignty ever again. What a fucking joke.

  8. Ian Welsh

    that’s exactly what I said would happen, in public, in advance.

  9. Soredemos

    I was thinking of people and sites like Moon of Alabama, not you.

    I didn’t think this would happen because I thought Putin (and Lavrov) were far smarter than this. Turns out they’re just fucking idiots. They’ve managed to reinvigorate and reunite NATO, probably brought the EU back under DC’s thumb, and validate months of western propaganda, all in one fell swoop. Literally all they had to do was do nothing, and they managed to fuck it up.

    They’ve gained little from it. Other than a few million new citizens to replace the ones Putin managed to get killed by screwing up covid as badly as the US has.

  10. Soredemos

    Also, what’s really amazing is that they just flushed 15 years or more of claiming they want a ‘multipolar world based on international law and sovereignty’ down the toilet. What, so now there can be multiple bully powers who can pull a Kosovo and proclaim regions of other nations independent and start bombing 9n their behalf?

  11. different clue

    Well, I missed the news just lately. If the RussiaGov has done what Soredemos reports, then everything he said about it and its outcome is correct. I wouldn’t blame Soredemos or myself or anyone else who dismissed this all as a EUro-NATO-DC FedRegime psy-op till just now, because of what those entities have done to us for the last many years. If they turn out to be correct, it is for all the wrong reasons. They just got lucky due to Putin-Lavrov’s cynical nastiness and shallow intelligence.

    Ian Welsh and Beau of the Fifth Column were right for the right reasons.

    And now all the Usual Suspects in Authority are set free to keep lying about new things for years to come because they have been made to look credible by the Cretins in the Kremlin. ( If the PutinGov really has done this very thing).

  12. bruce wilder

    The West may be so enveloped in its own tendentitious narratives that we in the West have a hard time seeing that Russia is telling its own story and presumably should have a right to do so, especially if multinational institutions are not going to stick to agreed neutral or objective criteria.

    Russia agreed to Minsk and Ukraine agreed to Minsk, and nothing happened, because Ukrainian nationalists took over telling Ukraine’s stories. After Armenia’s experience of a frozen conflict being dissolved by Turkish arms, Russia was worried as Ukraine acquired new weapons from NATO as well as Turkey — the NATO weapons in the main were probably not that useful, but I do not follow closely enough to know for sure and no one in the mainstream Media was subtle enough to care.

    I do not know whether the “intelligence community” when they “assess” have slipped from objective measures of observables into mere narratives. Certainly when they talk to us, the irrelevant electorate who are not trusted to know enough to judge anything, it has been distilled narrative only at least since the Gulf of Tonkin.

    The U.S. and NATO have let foreign policy be hijacked by the petty corruption of the cesspool of Ukrainian politics and the children of Ukrainians like Victoria Nuland and Chrystia Freedland. They are going to narrate WWIII if we let them.

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