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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – February 21, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Nietzsche’s Marginal Children: On Friedrich Hayek.

Corey Robin [The Nation, May 7, 2013]

Why have marxists and socialists failed so spectacularly in opposing movement conservatism and neoliberalism?  I think one major factor is an intellectual infatuation with Nietzsche, which blinds them to Nietzsche’s oligarchical pedigree and mindset. This is why I believe we need a revival of the ideas and ideals of civic republicanism, because the issues always come down to republicanism versus oligarchical elites. 

The Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek is the leading theoretician of this movement, formulating the most genuinely political theory of capitalism on the right we’ve ever seen. The theory does not imagine a shift from government to the individual, as is often claimed by conservatives; nor does it imagine a simple shift from the state to the market or from society to the atomized self, as is sometimes claimed by the left. Rather, it recasts our understanding of politics and where it might be found. This may explain why the University of Chicago chose to reissue Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty two years ago after the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Like The Road to Serfdom (1944), which a swooning Glenn Beck catapulted to the bestseller list in 2010, The Constitution of Liberty is a text, as its publisher says, of “our present moment.”

But to understand that text and its influence, it’s necessary to turn away from contemporary America to fin de siècle Vienna. The seedbed of Hayek’s arguments is the half-century between the “marginal revolution,” which changed the field of economics in the late nineteenth century, and the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918. It is by now a commonplace of European cultural history that a dying Austro-Hungarian Empire gave birth to modernism, psychoanalysis and fascism. Yet from the vortex of Vienna came not only Wittgenstein, Freud and Hitler but also Hayek, who was born and educated in the city, and the Austrian school of economics….


Throughout his writing life, Nietzsche was plagued by the vision of workers massing on the public stage—whether in trade unions, socialist parties or communist leagues. Almost immediately upon his arrival in Basel, the First International descended on the city to hold its fourth congress. Nietzsche was petrified. “There is nothing more terrible,” he wrote in The Birth of Tragedy, “than a class of barbaric slaves who have learned to regard their existence as an injustice, and now prepare to avenge, not only themselves, but all generations.” Several years after the International had left Basel, Nietzsche convinced himself that it was slouching toward Bayreuth in order to ruin Wagner’s festival there. And just weeks before he went mad in 1888 and disappeared forever into his own head, he wrote, “The cause of every stupidity today…lies in the existence of a labour question at all. About certain things one does not ask questions.”

Beware Economists Warning Against “Too Much Stimulus” (Again)
Barry Ritholtz, February 18, 2021 [The Big Picture]

If you want to blame a specific school of thought for why the post-financial crisis recovery was so weak, start with the group who opposed a trillion dollar fiscal response to the GFC.

The Anti-Stimulus, Anti-Rescue crew have not learned anything from their prior mistakes. Not everyone who signed onto the full page advertisement taken on in the New York Times on January 9th, 2009 remain n the anti-stimulus camp. But there is a substantial overlap between those on the list below who opposed a more robust response to the GFC and a current group opposed a more robust response to the pandemic…. Here is the CATO Institute’s full page NYT ad from January 9, 2009:

The Gig Economy Is Coming for Millions of American Jobs

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 2-19-21]

California’s vote to classify Uber and Lyft drivers as contractors has emboldened other employers to eliminate salaried positions—and has become a cornerstone of bigger plans to “Uberize” the U.S. workforce….

Employees in related fields are already feeling the knock-on effects [of Proposition 22]. In December, Albertsons Cos., the supermarket chain, started informing delivery drivers they’d be replaced by contractors. In California hundreds of Albertsons employees are being swapped for DoorDash Inc. workers, according to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. Albertsons declined to comment on the layoff figures but says that the move is happening in multiple states to “help us create a more efficient operation” and that affected workers are being offered other jobs there. (Some workers dispute that last part.) Startups such as Jyve Corp., which sends contractors to grocery stores to stock shelves in lieu of employees, are seeking similar exemptions. Companies in a range of industries could use the Prop 22 model to undermine or eliminate employment protections. A week after the election, Shawn Carolan, a partner at early Uber investor Menlo Ventures, wrote an op-ed heralding the potential to spread Prop 22’s vision of work “from agriculture to zookeeping,” including to “nursing, executive assistance, tutoring, programming, restaurant work and design.” The Coalition for Workforce Innovation, a lobbying group that seeks to enable wider use of contract labor, includes trade groups representing, Apple, AT&T, Comcast NBCUniversal, CVS Health, General Motors, Nike, Rite Aid, Starbucks, T-Mobile, Verizon Communications, and Walmart, as well as construction, finance, media, sales, and trucking interests.”

Maryland Becomes First State to Tax Big Tech’s Ad Revenue

[Gizmodo, via Naked Capitalism 12-16-20]

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

What Having No Income Tax Gets a State During a Pandemic

Harold Meyerson, February 16, 2021 [The American Prospect]

The states with the most progressive income taxes, it turns out, have been able to ride out the pandemic with little if any fiscal disruption. California, perpetually derided by right-wingers for having the most progressive income tax, actually saw no reduction in revenues between 2019 and 2020, as the wealthy have been doing just fine financially during the plague and paying their regular share of taxes. Likewise New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, which saw revenues dip by just 3 percent. Florida and Texas, by contrast, are by far the largest states that have no income taxes, and they saw their revenues decline by 10 percent. As for reduction in public-sector jobs, good old “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire—another state with no income tax—saw its state workforce shrink by a mind-boggling 26 percent, a full nine percentage points more than the second-ranked state.

Why Texans are cold and in the dark

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 2-19-21]

Texas’s predicament stems from a decision that state lawmakers made about 20 years ago to abandon the traditional model of fully regulated electricity utilities. Still used across many areas of the nation, these electric companies — described as vertically integrated utilities — do not compete for customers and are allowed to earn a rate of return on investment. They can raise rates only with the permission of state regulators.

Deconstructed: The Roots of the Texas Energy Crisis. Texas Republicans Ran a Twenty-Year Experiment. The Results Are In.

[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 12-20-20]

In the early 2000s, after gaining control of the Texas House of Representatives for the first time in modern history, Republicans undertook a gerrymandering scheme that solidified their control of the state even further. What followed was a multidecade experiment in deregulation that has now left millions of Texas residents freezing and without power. Ryan Grim talks to former congressional candidate Mike Siegel and University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs professor Varun Rai about how it happened — and how it could have been prevented.

Texas’ power grid crumples under the cold

[ars technica, via Naked Capitalism 12-16-20]

“Texas is unusual in that almost the entire state is part of a single grid that lacks extensive integration with those of the surrounding states. That grid is run by an organization called ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, a nonprofit controlled by the state legislature.” …. “[R]oughly 30 gigawatts of generation capacity has been forced offline. While some early reports indicated that frozen wind turbines were causing significant shortfalls, 30GW is roughly equal to the entire state’s wind capacity if every turbine is producing all the power it’s rated for. Since wind in Texas generally tends to produce less during winter, there’s no way that the grid operators would have planned for getting 30GW from wind generation; in fact, a chart at ERCOT indicates that wind is producing significantly more than forecast…. So while having Texas’ full wind-generating capacity online would help, the problems with meeting demand appear to lie elsewhere. An ERCOT director told Bloomberg that problems were widespread across generating sources, including coal, natural gas, and even nuclear plants. In the past, severe cold has caused US supplies of natural gas to be constrained, as use in residential heating competes with its use in generating electricity. But that doesn’t explain the shortfalls in coal and nuclear, and the ERCOT executive wasn’t willing to speculate. With generation failing to meet demand, ERCOT was left with no other option other than to cut off customers’ access to power.”

The energy “market” in Texas was carefully designed for scarcity to result in high prices: 

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-18-20]

“Has privatization failed Texas utility customers?”

[Power Grid, originally published on October 24, 2014, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-17-21]

“The current incentives in electricity markets harm residential electricity consumers. Texas electricity generators, with multiple plants on the interconnection grid, receive much more money if they do not weatherize a few of their plants properly. As a consequence, these poorly weatherized plants must shut down during cold weather. All generating plants that remain online receive the spiking electricity prices, and the generating company makes much more money than if all their plants were operating properly. This is only one way privatizers are gaming the Texas electricity market: using laws and rules set up by their lobbyists.”

Tough-guy Texas mayor tells residents ‘fend for themselves’ and resigns

[Houston Chronicle, via Naked Capitalism 12-18-20]

From the Mayor’s precipitating Facebook rant: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!”

U.S. is worst among developed nations for worker benefits

[CNBC, 2-4-2021, via North Carolina AFL-CIO]

The U.S. places last relative to its national policies around healthcare, unemployment, retirement, parental leave, and paid vacation and sick days, according to Zenefits, a human resources firm.

“Strength in numbers”

[Cory Doctorow, Pluralistic, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-18-21]

“One thing the Exchequer paper reveals is that accountants bat for both teams: team clarity and team obscurity. As many finance scandals and finance dramas have reminded us, accounting can be turned to obscuring and dazzling rather than revelation. After all, somewhere in HM Exchequer is a team of accountants who know exactly how money works – and know that it’s nothing like the account produced by economists or politicians. They know it because they are in charge of it. They do money, all day long. When accountants go rogue, things get bad. And thanks to neoclassical economics – and its emphasis on the “efficiency” of monopolies – we are living through a golden age of ghastly accounting fraud.”

Information Age Dystopia

Billionaires See VR as a Way to Avoid Radical Social Change

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 12-16-20]

Carmack was explicit about the importance of tech companies pushing virtual reality. “Not everyone can have a mansion. Not everyone can have a home theater. These are things we can simulate, to some degree, in virtual reality. Now, the simulation is not as good as the real thing. If you are rich and you have your own home theater or mansion and private island, good for you … you’re probably not the people that are going to benefit the most,” he said. “Most of the people in the world live in cramped quarters that are not what they would choose to be if they had unlimited resources.”

That’s absolutely true; most people in the world live in cramped quarters and would choose not to. But Carmack’s solution is to create a virtual world where people can escape. It’s a promise of the future where the living conditions are still cramped but people have accepted their material conditions and retreated into a fantasy world created by the tech companies.

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 12-16-20]


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

Privatization Would Doom Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

[In These Times, via Naked Capitalism 2-17-21]

From slavery to Jim Crow and through the post-civil rights era, right-wing politicians and business leaders have derided well-funded, democratic public institutions and services as ​“big government” and ​“federal overreach.” Racism has always been central to this project — as evinced by conservative dog whistles blasting government spending on ​“welfare queens” and ​“illegal aliens.”

As University of California, Berkeley law professor Ian Haney Lopez argues, political and economic elites exploit fear of people of color, immigrants, Muslims and others to ​“hijack government for their own benefit.” In other words, conservative critiques aren’t actually about the size of the government — they’re about who it serves. The 2017 Trump tax cuts, for example, overwhelmingly helped the richest Americans and blew a $450 billion hole in the federal budget. Since 1980, spending on state and local prisons has increased at triple the rate compared to public education. Yet these forms of government spending have not been met with ire by the Right.

When it comes to infrastructure, racism masked as fiscal austerity goes all the way back to the Reconstruction era. The end of the Civil War brought a wave of new construction to the South, including hospitals, housing and the region’s first public schools. As the Brookings Institution’s Vanessa Williamson has documented, wealthy Southern whites ​“focused their critique of Reconstruction on rising government debt and excessive spending, painting government by black people and poor whites as intrinsically corrupt.” They branded themselves as concerned ​“taxpayers,” allowing them to convince small farmers to join their side while avoiding explicit opposition to Black male suffrage. Ultimately, they were successful.

“After the Reconstruction governments fell, a new fiscal state served to reinforce white supremacy and strengthen antidemocratic institutions,” Williamson writes. ​“Under the guise of protecting the taxpayer, the white supremacist Redeemer governments slashed public budgets and shifted taxes onto the poor.”

The Austerity Politics of White Supremacy: Since the end of the Confederacy, the cult of the “taxpayer” has provided a socially acceptable veneer for racist attacks on democracy.

Vanessa Williamson [Dissent, Winter 2021]

….long before the Trumpist GOP, the agenda of the American right was undermining democracy and passing tax cuts for the rich. When the former Confederate elite mobilized to successfully overthrow the multiracial Reconstruction-era governments in the South 150 years ago, it was under the banner of fiscal conservatism….

In South Carolina, democratic rule posed a particularly big obstacle to the opponents of Reconstruction; the majority of the state was black, and under universal male suffrage, a majority of the state legislature was black, too. South Carolina’s white elite developed a two-part strategy of opposition. First, they focused their critique of Reconstruction on rising government debt and excessive spending, painting government by black people and poor whites as intrinsically corrupt. Adopting a new identity as concerned taxpayers helped the rich bridge the divide with small white farmers, for whom new land taxes were heavy, while avoiding explicit opposition to black male suffrage, which might smack of treason to Northerners….

Called together by the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Board of Trade, the Tax-Payers’ Convention of South Carolina met in Columbia in May 1871 and again in February 1874 to seek, “for the holders of property and the payers of taxes, a voice and a representation in the councils of that State.” They had a duty to speak up, the Tax-Payers argued, because the state of South Carolina was suffering from “the fearful and unnecessary increase of the public debt”; “wild, reckless and profligate” spending; and “excessive taxation.”

….As W.E.B. Du Bois would later explain in Black Reconstruction in America, the “fact that poor men were ruling and taxing rich men” was the “center of the corruption charge” made by wealthy Southern whites against the Reconstruction governments. The Tax-Payers deemed all government spending under Reconstruction suspect, so they did not feel obliged to engage in subtle, or even plausible, analyses of public finance. For instance, the Tax-Payers consistently compared pre- and postwar expenses, ignoring the fact that emancipation had doubled the state’s citizen population while war had decimated its infrastructure and economy. There was no need to specify what particular spending was objectionable—which was convenient, because a number of the Tax-Payers were themselves involved in rather shady dealings involving railroads and government bonds….

Just over a decade after the Civil War had ended, Northerners might be expected to balk at a Confederate general who had refused to surrender at Appomattox organizing paramilitary forces to seize power in South Carolina. Instead, Northern elites were a highly receptive audience for plans to empower the “taxpayers” against rule by the corrupt and incompetent poor…. Spurred by fear of the Paris Commune, the flood of European immigrants bringing class consciousness to American cities, and the growing organization of labor, wealthy Northerners came to see themselves as a victimized minority under attack. By the late 1870s, an “anti-corruption” commission of New York business leaders organized by Democratic Governor Samuel Tilden would publicly demand that “the excesses of democracy be corrected” by the passage of an amendment to the state constitution bringing an end to universal male suffrage….

Francis Parkman, the prominent Boston historian, wrote an article in 1878 entitled “The Failure of Universal Suffrage.” In cities, the “dangerous” effect of “flinging the suffrage to the mob,” Parkman argued, was that the “industrious are taxed to feed the idle.” Rather than civic institutions beholden to the public, Parkman reimagined cities as business entities: “great municipal corporations, the property of those who hold in stock in them.” Working-class men in New York City managed to protect their suffrage rights against the taxpayer-citizen amendment, but new tax standards for suffrage passed in towns in upstate New York, Maryland, Vermont, and Kentucky, and were seriously considered by several Northern state legislatures….

After the Reconstruction governments fell, a new fiscal state served to reinforce white supremacy and strengthen antidemocratic institutions. Under the guise of protecting the taxpayer, the white supremacist Redeemer governments slashed public budgets and shifted taxes onto the poor. Oppressive fees and fines forced black people into a new slavery of convict leases and chain gangs. Eventually, new state constitutions included poll taxes to reinforce black disenfranchisement, and tax limitations that required supermajorities to overturn, ensuring that wealthy whites could shield themselves even if most citizens wanted to raise taxes.

The Problem With “Anti-Corruption”

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 2-14-21]

Much of what would be considered corruption in a functional democracy has been more or less legalized in the United States. After all, who really needs to do something as crude as handing over a grubby envelope filled with dirty money in a back alley when you can launch a Political Action Committee? At least with Tammany Hall, workers could get beer and chicken come Election Day.

The Democratic Party, in many ways, is simply a fundraising machine that ensures its functionaries are never short of a lucrative gig, whether in a think tank paid for by Michael Bloomberg or at a consultancy feasting off state contracts. The #Resistance nomenklatura may have spent the last four years outraged about Trump-related sleaze, but you won’t find any of them turning down a well-paying corporate speaking fee.

Take a look at the Biden administration’s appointments: the Department of Defense looks like a division of WestExec, and several of Blackrock’s finest have been given the go-ahead to live out their West Wing fantasies.

Who Are the Ultimate War Profiteers? U.S. Air Force Veteran Removes the Veil

[CovertActionMagazine, via Naked Capitalism 2-17-21]

….Wall Street plays the foundational role in the war industry by outright owning war corporations. Consider PAE, a subtle, potent corporation, which operates such diverse business sectors of war as vehicle maintenance, base operations, military construction, and military training. Gores Holdings III acquired PAE from Platinum Equity in early 2020. Gores then adopted the name PAE and took PAE public. PAE has since acquired the corporations CENTRA and Metis Solutions, which further increase PAE’s operations carrying out former governmental tasks within the U.S. military establishment and espionage agencies….

The private equity firm Lindsay Goldberg owns Amentum, which was created in 2020 when AECOM, a massive engineering and project management firm, sold its management services business. Amentum now directs this business. Overseas, this management services business has recently transported equipment, cargo, and personnel around Europe; run logistics for prepositioned matériel in Germany, Kuwait, and Qatar; supported drone operations in the Middle East; and repaired support equipment and helped with maintenance at Navy sites in Comalapa, El Salvador. These operations now all belong to Amentum….

Another prominent financial player is Veritas Capital, which once owned DynCorp and now owns such corporations as Alion and Peraton, the latter of which is about to acquire Northrop Grumman’s IT business. Peraton’s recent sales to the U.S. military establishment have included: portable systems to foil radio-controlled explosive devices that sundry groups use to attack Western military forces that invade or occupy their countries; work on undersea drones; work to ensure nuclear missiles reenter Earth’s atmosphere properly; IT work that “directly supports American national security interests on the continent of Africa,” according to the contracting announcement; cyber activities for the Air Force Research Lab; and commercial satellite communications for Central Command. All is fair in profit and war.

How Democrats Planned for Doomsday

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 2-15-2021]

A huge coalition of activist groups had been working together since the spring to make sure that Joe Biden won and that the “election stayed won” amid Donald Trump’s subterfuge.

The video call was announced on short notice, but more than 900 people quickly joined: a coalition of union officials and racial justice organizers, civil rights lawyers and campaign strategists, pulled together in a matter of hours after the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill.

They convened to craft a plan for answering the onslaught on American democracy, and they soon reached a few key decisions. They would stay off the streets for the moment and hold back from mass demonstrations that could be exposed to an armed mob goaded on by President Donald J. Trump.

They would use careful language…. And they would demand stern punishment for Mr. Trump and his party….

Progressives Aim To Take Over Michigan’s Democratic Party

Walker Bragman, February 18, 2021 [The DailyPoster]

Sharon, a long-time independent business consultant who specializes in cross-cultural training, joined the Michigan Democratic Party in 2016. On his website, he explains that he “wanted to move the Party left — universal single-payer, criminal justice reform, abolishing the electoral college, immigration reform, money out of politics, Green New Deal, and so on.”

Over the last several years, he and a group of about 20 other progressives who took up the name Michigan for Revolution have done just that, forcing a package of procedural reforms that have democratized the state party. They have managed to secure changes to the state party platform including the inclusion of single-payer health care and universal basic income despite opposition from top-ranking state Democrats like Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

He and his group accomplished the seemingly herculean feat by thinking institutionally.

“The thing that’s holding the progressive movement back right now is the fact that there are these gatekeepers who are using rules in ways that are not democratic — that are not acceptable even under their own rules — to keep us out,” Sharon said.

The Dark Side

“House Democrat Sues Trump, Giuliani And 2 Far-Right Groups Over Capitol Riot” [NPR, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-16-21]

“The lawsuit, filed on Thompson’s behalf by the NAACP and the civil rights law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, accuses Trump and the other defendants of violating the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act by trying to interfere in Congress’ certification of the Electoral College count. The legislation was part of a series of Enforcement Acts at the time intended to protect the enfranchisement of Black citizens from violence and intimidation.” • The article doesn’t give the theory of the case, unfortunately. Will there be video? (I wish at some point the Democrats would figure out that “we were really afraid!” just isn’t a good public relations strategy.) No, but seriously, here is the lawsuit:

“57 GOP State And Local Officials Were At The Capitol Insurrection”

[HuffPo, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-16-21]

“At least 57 state and local Republican officials attended the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that turned into a deadly insurrection, according to an updated HuffPost tally. Almost all of them are resisting calls to resign…. In the mob on Jan. 6, according to HuffPost’s analysis, were, at least, 16 Republican members of state houses or assemblies, four state senators, a state attorney general, six county commissioners, seven city council members, two mayors, three school board members, two state GOP chairs, two prosecutors and a slew of other officials and party functionaries.”

“Mapping the Trump Meridian in Texas”

[The Nation, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-16-21]

“President Donald Trump’s performance along the west and South Texas border in 2020 was nothing short of remarkable. Just five years after he’d called Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, the enthusiasm of Latino voters for the 45th president dashed Democratic dreams of a blue Texas, resulting in voting shifts in Texas border counties unseen in over a century. The Democratic Party and its media sycophants blamed the lackluster showing on Covid-19, the ‘defund the police’ backlash, and the specter of socialism.” • Because of course they did. More: “According to the Texas secretary of state, the voting shifts were substantial, with Trump collecting more than 30 percent of the vote in every border county. In a majority of those counties, Trump received 10 percent more votes than he had in 2016, with some, like Starr County, showing shifts as high as 28 percent.”

Conclusion: “The 10-hour drive back to Laredo gave us time to think about the men and women we’d met. Both of us had expected to hear something different from them, honestly. Hardly anyone mentioned “socialism” or “defund the police.” Instead, we heard praise for the economy and for Trump himself. He remains a great favorite with the people we met. They all still believe he won the election and said they’d be comfortable if the results were overturned. In just four years, Trump managed to turn parts of what had been a strong blue border wall for Texas Democrats deep Republican red—truly an incredible feat. As to what lessons we can learn from it… we’re still trying to figure that out.”

The national GOP is broken. State GOPs might be even worse.

[Vox, via The Big Picture 2-16-2021]

Extreme moves in Oregon, Arizona, and Hawaii point to a discouraging conclusion: The post-Trump Republican Party shows no signs of reforming. The national GOP is broken. State GOPs might be even worse.

Rush Limbaugh arose on the corpse of the Fairness Doctrine

Heather Cox Richardson, February 17, 2021 [Letters from an American]

Pressing the Movement Conservative case faced headwinds, however, since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforced a policy that, in the interests of serving the community, required any outlet that held a federal broadcast license to present issues honestly, equitably, and with balance. This “Fairness Doctrine” meant that Movement Conservatives had trouble gaining traction, since voters rejected their ideas when they were stacked up against the ideas of Democrats and traditional Republicans, who agreed that the government had a role to play in the economy (even though they squabbled about the extent of that role).

In 1985, under a chair appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the FCC stated that the Fairness Doctrine hurt the public interest. Two years later, under another Reagan-appointed chair, the FCC abolished the rule.

With the Fairness Doctrine gone, Rush Limbaugh stepped into the role of promoting the Movement Conservative narrative. He gave it the concrete examples, color, and passion it needed to jump from think tanks and businessmen to ordinary voters who could help make it the driving force behind national policy. While politicians talked with veiled language about “welfare queens” and same-sex bathrooms, and “makers” and “takers,” Limbaugh played “Barack the Magic Negro,” talked of “femiNazis,” and said “Liberals” were “socialists,” redistributing tax dollars from hardworking white men to the undeserving.

Constantly, he hammered on the idea that the federal government threatened the freedom of white men, and he did so in a style that his listeners found entertaining and liberating.

Fox News is a hazard to our democracy. It’s time to take the fight to the Murdochs. Here’s how.

[Washington Post, via The Big Picture 2-15-2021]

James Murdoch blasted the harm that his family’s media empire has done: “The sacking of the Capitol is proof positive that what we thought was dangerous is indeed very much so. Those outlets that propagate lies to their audience have unleashed insidious and uncontrollable forces that will be with us for years.”

Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-16-21]


“The Politics of a Second Gilded Age”

[Matt Karp, Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 2-19-21]

“November’s third major winner, filling out the picture, was America’s headlong march toward a party system entirely decoupled from the politics of class. To be sure, the class-aligned politics of the long New Deal era — which happened to produce virtually every worthwhile national law, from Social Security to the Voting Rights Act — began to erode decades ago. But the last four years have seen a rapid acceleration of this trend, with Republicans winning larger and larger chunks of the non-college-educated working class, while Democrats gain more and more votes from affluent professionals and managers. The result is a party system in which ‘issues’ and ‘policies’ — that is, competing ideas about the exercise of power or the distribution of goods — can hardly expect to find meaningful expression, let alone material fulfillment.”



Open Thread


The Core Social Principles of Ideologies


  1. Soredemos

    It’s satisfying t see someone point out that Nietzsche was in fact a giant retard.

  2. Plague Species

    What if the weather event that predicated the Texas power infrastructure failure isn’t an anomalous outlier but instead a precursor?

  3. Hugh

    Nietzsche like a lot of libertarians after him made the fundamental error of writing off the 99.99% of what he and any of us are that we get from the society we are born into. It’s a lot easier to write off workers and defend, even exalt, inequality if you can simply ignore the language, knowledge, belief, ideas, food, shelter, medicine that you got from society, that made you possible, and gave you virtually everything you are and ever will be. We owe each other, and that undercuts any argument or rationale for significant inequalities of wealth. The problem of wealth isn’t just about what someone has but what they owe back to the rest of us. It’s hard to maintain that the wealthy “earned” all their wealth when 99.99% of who they are came and depends on that rest of us.

    As for a big covid stimulus, conservatives are using the argument that it’s not us but our children who will pay for it. Yet these same people had no problem passing a $2 trillion tax cut for the rich –who didn’t need it because, wait for it, they were already rich. Also conservatives don’t want a bunch of help going to black and brown people who are unlikely to vote for them. Being fiscally responsible sounds so much better than being pig-ignorant racist, dontcha know.

  4. Joan

    Oof, Prop 22 is hell.

    I used to work at a grocery store and shoplifting went through the roof when self-checkout was put in. I’d beep items across the laser and watch someone walk out with a cart full of stuff. I can’t imagine what it will look like with contractors stocking shelves at night rather than store employees. The onus is on the store to catch shoplifting then, and they likely won’t. Oh well.

  5. Hugh

    We need to start calling things what they are, even if that’s uncomfortable. We need to understand that the Republican party is a fascist party, and it was well along that way before Trump showed up. For one thing, it blows up the whole notion of bipartisanship. How is one “bipartisan” with fascists? How is working with fascists anything other than surrender to and legitimizing of them? You can say the same about “good Republicans” like McConnell and “bad Republicans” like Trump. You can’t be Republican and not fascist. Call them what they are. Don’t justify or pretend they aren’t. Pretend is for six-year-olds.

  6. “Extreme moves in Oregon, Arizona, and Hawaii point to a discouraging conclusion: ” – something to keep in mind about the Oregon and Hawaii GOP: they are very small and weak, a mere remnant. In Oregon, they can’t even put up a plausible challenge in Senate or Governor races; they get only one US House seat, the east side where the people aren’t, and are so weak in the State House that the only way they exercise power is by walking out and denying a quorum. (On the other hand, they do have the gumption to do that.)

    So in that sense, yes, they’re broken. But these deep-blue states tell us nothing about national politics.

  7. nihil obstet

    I admit I don’t really understand bipartisanship. Our rulers insist on the need for two parties and on the need for bipartisanship. Why don’t we just get rid of the parties? That will solve the problem of need for bipartisanship. We can address the problem without first getting bent out of shape about the parties.

  8. bruce wilder

    How is one “bipartisan” with fascists?

    Watch and learn, Grasshopper. Biden will show you how!

    Hint: prioritize the suppression of “domestic terrorists” is a good start: bring perpetual, unwinnable war home, that’s the way. Be the lesser-evil authoritarian forced by the Republicans to be a reluctant fascist fighting “too large” an increase in the minimum wage.

  9. Hugh

    And Hitler put a lot of Germans back to work. So it was all good, right, bruce?

  10. edmondo

    Once again, Hugh has half the answer and no solution.

    Of course the GOP is fascist; so is the other party. BOTH parties have no problem with government colluding with big business. Fuck, that’s what Nancy Pelosi’s entire career looked like. You keep making Trump a strawman for us to laugh at you. Wake me when you realize the only difference between the two parties is who supplies them with cash, sinecures and golden parachutes. The entire system is irredeemable.

  11. bruce wilder

    And Hitler put a lot of Germans back to work. So it was all good, right, bruce?

    It was obviously far from “all good,” Hugh.

    The way you have analogized a past you only dimmly understand with a present you refuse to understand — calling the Republicans “fascists” and so on — is your fantasy trip, Hugh. I wish you would give it up and stop filling comments with pointless name-calling.

    The rancor of partisan division that you are participating in, with its eliminationist overturns, is not helping any cause worth supporting.

  12. bruce wilder

    thanks for pointing out the obvious for Hugh, edmondo. do not expect it to register.

  13. Willy

    bruce, so how do we join with these “Republicans”? I’m finding that few outside those Lincoln Project types even want to play with facts anymore. We’re socialists and demonically processed. Do we need to buy ourselves a Qanon translator?

  14. Willy

    I think Hugh had it right the first time you tried to smear him. Obama also said it exactly right when he stated that his people governed like moderate Republicans. For their part, “moderate Republicans” now want to be governed like authoritarian fascists. As the train gets pulled rightward by the corporate locomotive, attacking the caboose seems ridiculous.

  15. Jason

    Not a lot of agreement today. Oh well.

    Is Hugh the antagonist and bruce the protagonist, or vice versa? I get confused. I guess it doesn’t really matter.

  16. Willy

    Rush Limbaugh is the antagonist. Except a few of us were suspiciously quiet, in that thread where we could give his ghost an earful.

  17. Ché Pasa

    Tony maintains his ideal of a Hamiltonian Republic which he posits against an Oligarchy — without seeming to realize that Republics by their nature, ancient or modern, are Oligarchies. Stoller does a masterful deconstruction of the Hamiltonian fantasy, so I won’t do so here, but the basic point is that Hamilton despised “democracy” and was at bottom as terrified of The People as Nietzsche was.

    I’ve said many times that what revolutionary instinct and action there is in the United States is entirely on the right — ie: out to destroy what remains of a decadent and corrupt democracy and a somewhat sorta sometimes socially conscious bureaucracy and “PMC” — on behalf of a straightforward fascist/corporate dictatorship. And they’ve been winning for decades.

    The Biden interregnum represents a pause, a strategic pause, while the revolutionaries seek out a more charismatic, younger, and positive face for their overthrow of the rotten and almost non-functional ruling system. If they find it, then we will no doubt see a popular rightist revolution succeed — and the final extinction of the Founders’ Noble Experiment. It’s run its course.

    The question is why there is literally no Leftist counter to the Triumph of the Right anywhere unless you want to count Cuba and Venezuela.

    I was re-reading Mao’s Little Red Book (second edition, 1967) for clues to what happened. One thing stood out: prior to the Cultural Revolution, Mao insisted that the working class/proletariat make common cause with the petty bourgeois because their class interests were the same. Well guess what? They’re not. In the end, most had to be re-educated or liquidated. I’ve interviewed people who lived through the Cultural Revolution and who denounced their parents and harassed and beat up the bourgeois counter revolutionaries and went to the country themselves to do patriotic manual farm labor. Because it’s what you did.

    We saw at the Capitol insurrection that the primary actors were either military/allied or… petty bourgeois, many of whom face intractable financial difficulties because — what a surprise — they are heavily indebted to the haut bourgeoisie and the banking oligarchy. Wow. Who’d a thunk.

    They have zero class solidarity with the working class/proletariat who they seek to exploit to the max just like those above them.

    Months go by, no “checks,” no nothing, not even promises any more. The People do not rise up. Most don’t even think of it. The creaky infrastructure crashes around them. The People do not rise up. The absence of a comprehensive public health system ensures that hundreds of thousands of Americans will die on top of the hundreds of thousands who perish every year from neglect, medical mistakes, exposure and on and on. The People do not rise up.

    We sit here contemplating how to go it alone when the ultimate Collapse finally comes. No thought of rising up.

  18. Hugh

    Our country is truly blessed, the only one on the planet with no fascists in it. What is even more remarkable and exceptional about this is that if tens of millions of Americans lived in some other country they would be fascists, called fascist, no problem. But in the good, old US of A: no. It must be something in our air or water that protects us. So let’s all remember we can’t call American fascists what they are because as long as we don’t we can hide our cowardice and duck our responsibility to stand up to them.

  19. Hugh

    We are either at or will be by tomorrow half a million dead from covid in the US. More than we lost in World War II. But as the one thing we still are really good at is dodging responsibility, I expect this will create barely a ripple. We will simply deny the disease, or the number, or who is responsible.

  20. Soredemos

    Hugh, if you really think the GOP are fascists, you’re gonna be in for a hell of a shock when the actual fascists show up.

  21. actual fascists

    Worst single event deaths, USA:

    HIV/AIDS 700,000 (over 34 years)
    Spanish Flu 675,000 (over 2 years)
    American Civil War 618,000 (over 4 years)
    Covid-19 500,000 (in 1 year)

  22. Stoller’s attack on Hamilton very much freaked me out, because I think so highly of Stoller. So, I went digging soon after I first read it, and found it quite easy to trace the intellectual roots of it through William Hogeland – an anarcho-libertarian like Lew Rockwell – to the von Mises Institute Rockwell set up.

    But, just disparaging the source of Stoller’s anti-Hamiltonian screed as anarcho-libertarian does not really accomplish much. So, I want to note that Rockwell’s outfit is also the source of Thomas DiLorenzo’s attack on Abraham Lincoln as a “national socialist” because Lincoln was a proponent of Henry Clay’s political economy of direct government involvement in the economy. And, I will also note that the von Mises Institute published Randall G. Holcombe’s attack on the General Welfare clause of the US Constitution. Holcombe was a top adviser to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign.

    The point is that there is a fundamental and crucial conflict of ideas going on here. And I am dismayed that Stoller has picked the wrong side. Why the wrong side? Because look at who Hamilton’s opposition was when he was Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury AND look at when that opposition begins to exert itself: When Hamilton reorganizes the financial system of the United States by creating the first Bank of the United States. The contest here is whether the USA is going to remain an undeveloped agrarian economy, or is going to industrialize. Hamilton’s opposition is who? Jefferson and Madison. And who do Jefferson and Madison represent? Whose interests are they striving to protect? The southern slaveholders.

    So, it’s no coincidence that Holcombe’s attack on the General Welfare clause is basically a paean to the Confederate constitution, because the Confederate left out them mention of the General Welfare in the Preamble, as well as eliminating the General Welfare clause. And more, as Holcombe wrote:

    “The Southern drafters thought the general welfare clause was an open door for any type of government intervention. They were, of course, right. Immediately following that clause in the Confederate Constitution is a clause that has no parallel in the U.S. Constitution. It affirms strong support for free trade and opposition to protectionism: “but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importation from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry.”

    This brings me to a key observation, which is that republicanism requires the government to actively promote “the good.” It’s not just “freedom from domination” which is the gist of the definition being put forward by people influenced by Rawls and Pettit. I’ve been reading quite a bit about republicanism, and this key element is entirely ignored, even by scholars sympathetic to republicanism. Actively promoting “the good” is one of the key differences between a democracy and a republic. A democracy needs only to allow a majority to triumph to be legitimate. If you were a black in Missisippi or Alabama in the years of Jim Crow, you probably had a different view of democracy. Popular crowds bringing lunches to picnic on during a lynching? Isn’t that democracy in action?

    A republic by contrast, insists that there must be the rule of law as a barrier to the transgressions of popular will. Republicanism understands that not just the rule of law, but the entire social and mental network of customs, norms, traditions must be nurtured and cultivated is such a way that the institutions of government and society can be generally relied on to defend justice and punish inequity. This includes imposing restrictions on economic activity that harms or weakens the General Welfare.

    Note that by this definition, republicanism would tend to inhibit the development of capitalism. And, indeed, a number of scholars who have concerned themselves with the issue have noted that republicanism had to give way to democratic liberalism for capitalism to advance the way it has. Those who wish more detail on this should get a copy of John Lauritz Larson, Internal Improvement: National Public Works and the Promise of Popular Government in the Early United States, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Not only does Larson focus directly on how government was used to promote the good, but he ends with this lament: “The tragedy for Americans was not that they had failed to build a national system of roads and canals, or that they lots control of the railroads to the private sector. The tragedy lay in the subtle substitution, during the long struggle over internal improvements, of economic liberalism for political republicanism at the heart of the American experiment.”

    Promoting the good of course entirely conflicts with the clash of self interests by which the best allocation of resources is supposed to arise through the magic of the market. Insist on promoting the good, and swatting down economic activity that harms or weakens the General Welfare yields lots of room for opponents to smear you as an elitist or anti-democratic, which is exactly the mold of the attack on Hamilton. It is an indication of historically ignorant our culture has become that no one notices the irony that leading democrats like Stoller attack Hamilton for suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion, and those very same democrats are horrified and outraged at the Trumpist insurrection on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021.

    Promoting the good as a concept can be traced back to the foundational texts of most of the world’s major religions. Benjamin Franklin based his life and career on the concept, helping to create many institutions in Philadelphia that enjoined young people to reflect each morning on what good they could render to their fellow men and women. It was carried out by the government Franklin helped design, as administered by Hamilton, not just in the tariffs denounced by neo-confederates, but in active programs of government sponsored science and infrastructure: the Coast Survey; the Corps of Engineers; inoculations; the General Survey Act; the Land Grant college system; agricultural research and dissemination of agricultural knowledge; the Moore School Lectures that created the computer industry at the end of World War 2; NACA then NASA, and on and on and on.

    I regret that I did not include Matt Taibbi’s attack on Herbert Marcuse in this post.
    Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual
    Taibbi does not have the full details, but he senses that the major strategic weakness of “the left” is that it rejects the founding of USA as a republic out of hand as just another means of exploitation of the masses. This leaves “the left” crippled and incapable of effectively defending against the oligarchies of this world. If you believe Hamilton was an oligarch as much to be opposed and detested as Richard Mellon Scaife, or Fred Koch, or David Barclay or Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster, it’s no wonder you repeatedly get your ass handed to you by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Steve Bannon.

    As for “that Republics by their nature, ancient or modern, are Oligarchies.” Whew. I’m tempted to merely ask why would the Bolsheviks name their experiment the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the Maoists name their’s the People’s Republic of China if that were even remotely true? But it is a horrible denigration of the work of men like Charles Sumner and William H. Skaggs, who knew quite well the difference between a republic and an oligarchy.

    I highly recommend reading pages 176 to 188 of the February 1866 by speech Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner delivered urging passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (
    “A republic, like a democracy, cannot tolerate inequality. Wherever a favored class appears, whether in one or the other, its republican character ceases. It may be an aristocracy or oligarchy, but it is not a democracy or a republic.”

    The Southern Oligarchy: An Appeal in Behalf of the Silent Masses of Our Country Against the Despotic Rule of the Few, book by William H. Skaggs, 1924
    “The power of the Slave Oligarchy which, like the old Tory party in England, was essentially a landed-aristocracy, was destroyed by emancipation, but from the ashes of that Oligarchy there arose an inferior, less cultured and more sordid power which came as the aftermath of Reconstruction. The history of the origin and growth of this post-bellum Oligarchy is found
    in the tragic and pathetic story of the Solid South.”

  23. Stirling S Newberry

    “I regret that I did not include Matt Taibbi’s attack on Herbert Marcuse in this post.
    Marcuse-Anon: Cult of the Pseudo-Intellectual

    One of the traits of one intellectual to other intellectuals is the gambit of labeling their work as “pseudo-intellectualism” when in actuality there are merely point to close to home. One does not have to agree with Marcuse(I for one do not) to wrestle with the problems in his work. ( is his best work in my opinion. )

    Taibbi does not have one good idea in his oeuvre. He is an attack dog with the result that her tears into people. A fair fraction of the time he is on the mark but sometimes he is woefully short. Marcuse is one of these. One of the points he questions is the Marxist idea the capitalism must inevitably come crashing down as a natural result of the “false needs” that a modern capitalist state can generate. He is not a neo-liberal thinker or a conservative one just not a believer in Marxism as a dogmatic prescription for displacing capitalism.

  24. Jason

    just not a believer in Marxism as a dogmatic prescription for displacing capitalism.

    Like Proudhon and many others. All of the more nuanced thinkers were trashed or ignored by Marx, and his faithful adherents carry on his legacy in the present day.

    Marx was brilliant in his own way, but utterly lacking in wisdom. Seems to be par for the course among most “highly” intelligent people. In fact, they’re too smart for their own good. More importantly, they’re too smart for the rest of us, and their “intelligence” destroys, though they’re convinced that humanity wouldn’t “move forward” without them.

    Some of these empty souls congregate here.

  25. Lex

    Context for Nietzsche is important. His reactionary tendencies and the quoted excerpts make political sense in the context of his time: the years including and right after the revolutions of 1848. Especially given that he was a member of good society in one or the places with an extreme, reactionary response to 1848. Worth remembering as well that the early phases of 1848 were social and political revolutions, though the new middle class would mostly abandon the social aspects once they won political/constitutional victories. More interesting is that the effects of 1848 were felt in Reconstruction and particularly the reactionary movement against it. It’s explicitly mentioned in the block quote referencing immigrants which at the time were heavily German/Austria-Hungarian and primarily because of the reactionary response to 1848 in German speaking nations.

    Hamilton was the oligarchy’s apparatchik. He just happened to side with the northern oligarchs who were bankers and industrialists rather than planters. He put money above goods. His implementation of the whiskey tax says it all: a horribly regressive tax on tenant and small farmers structured to destroy the hard currency source of farmers and transfer it to big distillers. The tax was on still volume rather than production, more whisky making means a lower tax. He also directed the army (a huge purchaser of booze) to only buy from the big distilleries. No sooner was the army created than Hamilton created the first state-level corruption of military contracting. He could have argued for a property tax, but that would have been paid by the oligarchs/founders like Washington; he could have based it on income but again that would be paid by the oligarchs. He settled on rugged capitalism for the lower classes and gilded socialism for the oligarchs. Same as it ever was.

  26. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    “Why have marxists and socialists failed so spectacularly in opposing movement conservatism and neoliberalism?”

    Well, the main reason lies in the very words “Marxist” and “socialist”, or rather, the connotations that arise in the average American’s mind on hearing those words: Secret police and kangaroo courts and gulags and summary executions, first and foremost–then after those, famines, endless lines for shoddy consumer goods, compulsory atheism, and a generally colorless and monotonous existence.

    The Communists turned out, however unwittingly, to be the capitalists’ best friends.

  27. Hugh

    It was a political choice in the US to depict socialism in terms of East Germany and the USSR and not Sweden and Scandinavia just as capitalism was not depicted in terms of Dickens’ London.

    I agree with Lex on Hamilton and would add his regionalism favoring East Coast interests over those of the smaller, more vibrant Western pioneers.

    I think it is a mistake to take too literally the economic prescriptions of people like Hamilton, or Marx. With caveats, I only feel comfortable comparing the current economy with the economy going back to the Great Depression, maybe the 1920s. Before that, it’s apples and oranges. We can talk some general principles but the specifics get murky fast.

  28. Willy

    Marketing too, IBW. Being a strong self-reliant aryan manly man sells, because as we learned back in high school, the ladies prefer them. And failing that, being a clever bespectacled geek (rich techie geek) also sells, with ladies having them as a fallback. Some say that having a culture where all the guys are striving to be the manly man and the clever bespectacled geek warrior can work well too, as was demonstrated by the unexpectedly long time it took powerful England, gigantic USSR, and mighty USA to get the more smartly dressed Nazi army to submit.

    But then I’m one of those who believe that everything I needed to learn, I learned in kindergarten.

  29. Soredemos


    Well, first of all, ‘fascism’ is a word that actually means something specific. It doesn’t mean ‘assholes who are shitty at their jobs’. Hell, it doesn’t even mean ‘assholes who are actively malevolent’.

    Second, as bad as the GOP are (and they are ludicrously bad; Trump’s actions in regards to COVID were criminal negligence and dereliction of duty), the idea of placing the blame for 500k+ deaths entirely at their feet is beyond absurd. What’s happening now is the result of long term systemic decline, a decline that has been caused by thoroughly bipartisan policies. Many of the points of failure are at the state level. Newsom and Cuomo in particular being monsters has nothing to do with the GOP.

    @Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Given that you’ve crawled out of riverdaughter’s swamp, I seriously doubt you would ever actually bring yourself to lend support to even a mildly center-left candidate anyway. You’ll lament how Americans are indoctrinated and stupid while consistently casting your votes for whatever right-wing neolib the DNC vomits up. You’re a sheep who berates others for being sheep.

  30. Ché Pasa


    Oligarchy= Rule by the few

    Which is also functionally what a Republic is. Even a People’s Republic. The People do not rule directly, and in fact their interests may not even be represented by their rulers, and yet the government may still be a Republic.

    A Republic is not necessarily representative of any but those who rule and their sponsors. An Oligarchy isn’t a whole lot different.

    Tony’s argument in favor of Hamiltonianism can be as true as Stoller’s argument against. I happened to grow up in the immediate post-FDR period and learned then that Hamilton was no friend of The People — though the policies he advocated and/or implemented could be considered beneficial or necessary under the circumstances of the times.

    Things are not necessarily binary.

  31. Stirling S Newberry

    “Being a strong self-reliant aryan manly man sells, because as we learned back in high school, the ladies prefer them.”

    Average girls prefer them or rich brats. Then we get to college.

  32. Hugh

    As per the John Hopkins’ Covid site, 500,159 Americans dead from it.

  33. Stirling S Newberry

    Basically, the minimum of deaths. This is going to its chapter in the book “Decline and Fall of the American Empire.”

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén