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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – January 8, 2023

by Tony Wikrent


Strategic Political Economy

Why Petulant Oligarchs Rule Our World

Paul Krugman [New York Times, via The Big Picture 1-3-2023]

…the lesson I took from my moment of pettiness was that privilege corrupts, that it very easily breeds a sense of entitlement. And surely, to paraphrase Lord Acton, enormous privilege corrupts enormously, in part because the very privileged are normally surrounded by people who would never dare tell them that they’re behaving badly.

When an immensely rich man, accustomed not just to getting whatever he wants but also to being a much-admired icon, finds himself not just losing his aura but becoming a subject of widespread ridicule, of course he lashes out erratically, and in so doing makes his problems even worse.

The more interesting question is why we’re now ruled by such people. For we’re clearly living in the age of the petulant oligarch….

Musk still has many admirers in the technology world. They see him not as a whiny brat but as someone who understands how the world should be run — an ideology that writer John Ganz calls bossism, a belief that the big people shouldn’t have to answer to, or even face criticism from, the little people. And adherents of that ideology clearly have a lot of power, even if that power doesn’t yet extend to protecting the likes of Musk from getting booed in public….

[TW: Montesquieu wrote (see below)]

“Though real equality be the very soul of a democracy, it is so difficult to establish, that an extreme exactness in this respect would not be always convenient. Sufficient is it to establish a census, which shall reduce or fix the differences to a certain point: it is afterwards the business of particular laws to level, as it were, the inequalities, by the duties laid upon the rich, and by the ease afforded to the poor. It is moderate riches alone that can give or suffer this sort of compensation; for as to men of overgrown estates, everything which does not contribute to advance their power and honor is considered by them as an injury….” [emphasis by TW]


SBF and the Injustice Democrats: How SBF, AIPAC and pro-Trump billionaires coordinated to crush the left 

Max Berger [via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2023]

When I looked into SBF’s political giving to write a follow up to last week’s piece, I thought I knew what I was looking for. It’s a subject I’ve written about before.

But, when I looked at the end-of-cycle FEC data, the results were truly shocking.

I found more evidence SBF was collaborating with AIPAC and Trump supporting billionaires to stop the growth of the squad and the electoral left.

Five billionaire funded PACs were coordinating closely on a strategy to defeat progressive candidates in Democratic primaries — a kind of Injustice Democrats.

Mark Mellman, a long-time operative and AIPAC ally, appears to be at the center of the effort and likely spearheaded the shared campaign. He was hired by four of the five groups this cycle, who collectively paid his firm $476,016.67… According to FEC data, over 75% of the money SBF contributed to Democrats in 2022 went to groups that spent nearly all their money on competitive primaries in the Democratic Party.

SBF personally contributed $29,250,000 to Protect Our Future and DMI PAC (which later contributed the money to Web3 Forward). Both of these groups spent the vast majority of their money on Democratic primaries. They also worked closely with two AIPAC affiliated SuperPACs called the United Democracy Project (UDP) and the Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), and a group called Mainstream Democrats which aimed to defeat the “far-left.”

Conservative Political Parties Embody The Politics Of Nihilism

Howie Klein [DownWithTyranny 1-6-2023]

Yesterday public intellectual Umair Haque took a stab at explaining why democracy is broken in the U.S. and Britain to the point where both countries appear ungovernable. He began by asking why the Tories and the GOP are so incredibly incompetent that their nations are falling apart. And his answer goes back to the old truism about conservatives not believing in public goods. “If you don’t believe in public goods,” he wrote, “you are basically saying that the there is no job of governance to be done. Because there’s nothing to administer, oversee, nurture, invest in, shepherd, keep ship-shape for the next generation.”

Now the crux of his argument: “Neither the GOP nor the Tories believe in public goods. Not believing in public goods, they can’t do the job of governance. Because of course, to them, the task they’ve set out to accomplish isn’t governance at all. It’s the destruction of public goods. But that’s not governance, especially not in a modern democracy. What is it? Well, it’s a lot of things: ignorance, folly, hate, bigotry, rage, stupidity, and self-destruction, to name just a few… [After being ravaging in two World Wars] Europe’s living standards rose to the highest levels in human history because Europeans enjoyed the greatest public goods in history: from public health, to education, to transport, and so forth. There is absolutely no debate on this score… This is the great lesson of the 20th century, one of the most crucial in history, and now I can restate it in a simpler, more powerful form. We know the key to human prosperity. It’s called investment in public goods. They a) lift living standards while b) keeping societies equal and c) sharing wealth broadly, thus d) creating a relatively stable middle class that e) is the key for democracy to endure… [America and Britain] have been overrun by parties which genuinely don’t believe public goods should exist.”


“There is no long term without socialism”

Carl Beijer [via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-5-2023]

“Within the ruling class we’ve seen the ascent of so-called ‘Longtermism’ — a new style of politics focused on massive, big-picture threats to human civilization. Threats that even liberal capitalism, we are told, just can’t handle. History, by their account, hasn’t ended; it has only just begun, and if we’re in it for the long haul we need to make some dramatic changes to our politics…. If you haven’t heard of Longtermism, this probably speaks well of you: though it’s become remarkably influential among the ruling class, it still occupies a fringe position in academic philosophy. The premise is simple enough. Humans must prioritize the survival of our species above everything else, and that before we take care of smaller problems, our politics need to focus on ‘existential risks’ that could wipe our species out entirely. Understood this way, Longtermism sounds less like a philosophy than a common-sense call for risk management…. Longtermism doesn’t just mean technological development. It means a very particular path towards technological development with ‘accumulating resources’ for Musk and austerity for everyone else. As Émile Torres argues, that last point is particularly sinister and goes well beyond simple austerity: in theory, this utilitarian rhetoric about ensuring the survival of the species can be wielded to justify just about any atrocity imaginable…. Managerial efficiency isn’t the only reason why Longtermists typically prefer a dictatorship. Both Thiel and Masters have also cited as inspiration writers like Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Curtis Yarvin, two unabashed monarchists who both ground their politics in a belief in ‘natural elites’. We are now very far away from the innocuous sounding Longtermism that simply valued risk management; beneath the Saganesque rhetoric about ‘extending the light of consciousness to the stars,’ the Longtermists are giving us something that looks a whole lot like textbook fascism. There just isn’t anything subtle about a tiny political faction insisting that the demands of lebensraum and destiny place them beyond conventional morality in their fight for absolute power.” • Yikes. Of course, in the short run, we are all alive. So let’s make the most of it! (See NC here on the odious Hans-Hermann Hoppe.)


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2023]


Global power shift

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2023]

[TW: Ian blogged about this earlier this week].


China drone incursions drop a gauntlet on Japan 

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2023]


The West is Weak Where it Matters …

Aurelien [via Naked Capitalism 1-7-2023]

But it’s not only, and perhaps not even mainly, about technological problems. The defence industries of western states have been reconfigured over the last few decades by the same swivel-eyed MBAs who have ruined everything else. State-owned arms factories have been sold off and closed down. Most basic research and nearly all development have been outsourced. Many national defence industries have just ceased to exist, taken over by international conglomerates with loyalties only to shareholders.  A small but telling example: the next automatic weapon for the French military will be made in Germany, as the factory in France has now closed….

There are, of course, very important differences and nuances among western nations, but all of them, at different levels, are trapped in a process of smaller and smaller forces with smaller and smaller numbers of increasingly expensive and sophisticated equipment which is more and more expensive to maintain, and impossible to replace once a conflict has begun. The latter point has political consequences that are often ignored: under what circumstances are you going to risk your entire fleet of perhaps 100 front-line combat aircraft in a war which could leave you disarmed in a few days, and unable to rebuild your forces in less than a decade?

….There is nothing magical about the technology involved in the new missiles; it is just that the West saw no virtue in developing that technology itself. Likewise, the West saw no virtue in large and expensive stocks of ammunition. As a result, from now on, the West will simply not be able to rely on automatic air superiority in any serious conflict, nor will its navies be able to operate safely anywhere near an enemy coast, or within the range of air-launched stand-off missiles, nor will it be able to conduct sustained operations on land….

The most important role of the military is to guarantee the monopoly of legitimate force by the government and the State. This, of course, is the formulation of Max Weber (though he didn’t invent the idea) in discussing what qualified an entity to be a State. It must, said Weber, be able to successfully claim the monopoly of legitimate force over a certain territory. Obviously, there will always be illegitimate uses of force, but the State, if it is to qualify as one, has to be able to create and enforce rules for maintaining that monopoly, and saying which use of force is legitimate and which is not….

These problems are coming together, to some extent, with the widespread diffusion of automatic weapons, and the spread of ethnic organised crime groups in the suburbs of major European cities. Together with the increasing hold of organised Islamic fundamentalism on the local communities, this has created a series of areas where governments no longer wish to send the security forces, because of the fear of violent confrontation, and where these groups exert an effective monopoly of violence themselves….

So the existing force-structures of western states are going to have problems coping with the likely domestic security threats of the near future. Most western militaries are simply too small, too highly specialised and too technological to deal with situations where the basic tool of military force is required: large numbers of trained and disciplined personnel, able to provide and maintain a secure environment, and enforce the monopoly of legitimate violence.


OPEC’s Second-Largest Oil Producer Issues Arrest Warrant For Donald Trump

[OilPrice, via Naked Capitalism 1-7-2023]

The Iraqi supreme court has issued an arrest warrant for former U.S. President Donald Trump for the assassination on Iraqi soil of Iran’s Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, IraqiNews reports, citing a Baghdad news agency.


Lula Takes Back Power in Brasil – Pledges Prosecution of Bolsonaro Allies – Implements Gun Control Measures Immediately 

Mike Elk [via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2023]


De-dollarization: Slowly but surely 

[Al Mayadeen, via Naked Capitalism 1-2-2023]


The ten most important events of 2022

Infidel753 [Angry Bear, January 6, 2023]

And looking ahead…..  I’m wary of predictions, but there’s one thing we do know will happen this year, probably around April:  India will overtake China to become the world’s most populous country.  This will symbolize a transition which is already under way and has several more years to run.  China is a rapidly-aging society, demographically crippled by the aftereffects of the disastrous one-child policy, its people isolated from the world and held back at every turn by a ruthless and paranoid totalitarian regime with a truculent and belligerent stance toward other nations.  India is a youthful and vigorous democracy with a strong entrepreneurial culture, and open to the outside world; still beset by widespread poverty, yes, but so were the US and other now-advanced countries a few generations ago.  While China’s façade has lately fallen to reveal a Ponzi economy imploding into stagnation, India feels like a boom beginning to happen.  And given India’s huge population, that boom will reverberate around the world in the years to come.


The pandemic

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-2-2023]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2023]


The Uncounted: People of Color Are Dying at Much Higher Rates than Covid Data Suggest

[Texas Observer, via Naked Capitalism 1-2-2023]


[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-5-2023]

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-4-2023]

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-5-2023]


The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

Ponzi Hospitals and Counterfeit Capitalism 

Matt Stoller [BIG, via Naked Capitalism 1-5-2023] A must-read.


“Why Capitalism Needs Sick People”

[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-5-2023]

“Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant, the co-hosts of the Death Panel podcast, approach public health with an emphasis on the ‘public,’ joining a straightforward left-wing-policy analysis with uncompromising rhetoric and a for-us-by-us sense of sick solidarity. ‘STAY ALIVE ANOTHER WEEK,’ reads one hat for sale in the Death Panel merch store, a portion of the pod’s sign-off message. Fed up with the consumerist approach to health, they’ve struck a nerve. When the lefty publisher Verso released their book Health Communism in October, the first printing sold out immediately. Along with co-hosts Vince Patti and Philip Rocco, Adler-Bolton and Vierkant launched Death Panel in late 2018. Covid-19 made clear the frailties of the American health-care system, but it would be a mistake to see their success as a pandemic phenomena; Health Communism even goes so far as to ignore the topic. ‘This omission is intentional,’ they write. ‘For all the horrors of the pandemic, we are aware of no actions taken during it by states or private industry that are not explained in full by the preexisting health-capitalist framework.’ For Adler-Bolton and Vierkant, these questions are all political in a personal sense. The couple completed an uncommon journey of radicalization from fine art to medicine as Adler-Bolton struggled with a rare and worsening autoimmune condition. There are no greater experts on the realities of the American health-care system than the many sick people who go to battle every day with an apparatus that, depending on the fulfillment of arcane bureaucratic requirements, may withhold or remit life-saving drugs and services. For them, Death Panel provides practical advice as well as policy analysis and theoretical context.”


The End of Financial Hegemony? 

New Left Review, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-2023] Well worth a read.

In April, the Bank for International Settlements took stock, warning of price spillovers across sectors and between prices and wages, and that the structural factors that had kept inflation low might be waning with the retreat of globalization. The General Manager of the bis announced a policy turn:

“The adjustment to higher interest rates will not be easy . . . Households, firms, financial markets and sovereigns have become too used to low interest rates and accommodative financial conditions, also reflected in historically high levels of private and public debt . . . Nor will the required shift in central bank behaviour be popular. But central banks have been here before. They are fully aware that the short-term costs in terms of activity and employment are the price to pay to avoid bigger costs down the road. And such costs represent an investment in central banks’ precious credibility, which yields even longer-term benefits.”


How The Airline Industry Became A Living Nightmare 

David Sirota, January 4, 2023 [The Lever]


Home Depot co-founder says ‘socialism’ killed motivation to work: ‘Nobody gives a damn’ 

[NY Post, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-2023]


A Theory of Ex Post Rationalization (preprint) (PDF)

[arXiv, via Naked Capitalism 1-1-2023]

“Classical economic theory rules out rationalization. It assumes that people make forward-looking choices according to fixed preferences, rather than adapting their preferences to rationalize past decisions. Introspection, common sense, and psychological research all suggest that the classical approach omits a key aspect of human decisionmaking.”

Was our experiment with modern monetary theory a colossal failure? Not so fast

David Parkinson [The Globe and Mail, via Mike Norman Economics 1-4-2023]

A couple of years ago, we talked about the massive global fiscal response to the COVID-19 crisis as a de facto policy experiment in modern monetary theory (MMT). Today, surveying the economic damage, it’s easy to declare that experiment an abject failure.

Easy, yes. And hasty. And oversimplistic.

Yet that’s what the Institute of International Finance did in a recent research note. The Washington-based finance-industry group wrote that 2022 marked “an abrupt halt” to the “illusion” of MMT: that “the ability to run up debt without consequences … is limitless.” The huge expansion of government debt during the pandemic, supported by low interest rates and money creation by central banks, has resulted in the high inflation, soaring interest rates and looming recession.

Those with fair minds and a bit of knowledge will tell you that what the IIF describes – a bottomless pit of debt and money creation, without heed of consequences – is a misrepresentation of MMT. Proponents have always recognized that there are limits to their notion that governments have more capacity for spending and debt than they have traditionally been willing to acknowledge or use.

Restoring balance to the economy

Why 2023 Is a Crucial Year in Our Economic Transformation

Felicia Wong, January 5, 2023 [The New Republic]

What now for Bidenomics? …. Can the White House and the federal agencies make all of their legislative successes—the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and the CHIPS and Science Act—really work for the American people?

No doubt, these policies are a real break from the failures of neoliberalism. They invest public funds, from proper taxation on the wealthy and corporations who are otherwise skirting the law, in important new sectors of our future economy, from clean energy to semiconductor supply chains. They strengthen basic public scientific research. They strengthen government itself, from the IRS to the Department of Energy and more.

But whether these policies will actually work is an open question. In the year ahead, policymakers will face four important “choice points.” Their decisions will make the difference between a one-off set of government grants and tax credits and the ushering in of a new political order—a true split from market-only answers, and an embrace of sustained public investment in public goods that Americans will see, understand, and maybe even reward.

The four critical political economy questions for 2023: Will we plan? Will we repair? Will we embrace and amplify the role of government? And, as we seek to build roads and bridges, wind farms, and electric vehicle charging stations and semiconductor fabrication plans, will we listen to the communities who will be most affected by all of this change?


Update on the Catalonia UBI pilot (Universal Basic Income)

[Basic Income Earth Network, via Naked Capitalism 1-2-2023]


Climate and environmental crises

WOTUS Update, “EPA Revises Clean-Water Protections”

[Farm Policy News, via Naked Capitalism 1-2-2023]


Alaska’s Arctic Waterways Are Turning a Foreboding Orange 

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 1-3-2023]


This $67BN High Speed Railway Will Change Asia 

[YouTube, via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2023]


Researchers Discover Why Roman Concrete Was So Durable 

[MIT News, via Naked Capitalism 1-7-2023]


The Future of Industrial Process Heat 

Austin Vernon [via Naked Capitalism 1-6-2023]


They’re not capitalists — they’re predatory criminals

Government by Blackmail: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s Mentor and the Dark Secrets of the Reagan Era

Whitney Webb, July 25, 2019 []

Appalling for both the villainous abuse of children itself and the chilling implications of government by blackmail, this tangled web of unsavory alliances casts a lurid light on the political history of the U.S. from the Prohibition Era right up through the Age of Trump.


Attorney General Denise George Has Been Terminated 

[The Virgin Island Consortium, via Naked Capitalism 1-2-2023]

“[J]ust days” after Ms. George had filed a lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase for facilitating convicted felon Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of women, without first informing Governor Bryan of such a major action.


Another Quid Pro Joe? Epstein-targeting Virgin Islands prosecutor is swiftly fired after Biden arrives in town

[The Dossier, via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2023]


JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank seek dismissal of lawsuits by Jeffrey Epstein accusers 

[Reuters, via Naked Capitalism 1-4-2023]


Information age dystopia

“Twitter Files: Why Twitter Let the Intelligence Community In”

Matt Taibbi [TK News, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-4-2023]

[Lambert Strether advised: “Worth reading in full. The piece isn’t a smoking gun; it’s a smoking armory. Taibbi cites chapter and verse on a topic I’ve been nattering about for some time, even if at times I thought I was too cynical: The merger of the Democrat Party, the intelligence community, and the press into a single entity. Moreover, Taibbi explains what sparked the merger: Russiagate. So we have a lot to thank the Hillary Clinton campaign for.”]


How the FBI Hacked Twitter 

[The Tablet, via Naked Capitalism 1-6-2023]


Capsule Summaries of all Twitter Files Threads to Date, With Links and a Glossary

Matt Taibbi [TK News, via Naked Capitalism 1-5-2023]


Democrats’ political malpractice

[TW: Contrast the surveillance state targeting of social media with this:]

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 1-4-2023]


Republicans VINDICATED Force the Vote (w/ Thomas Frank) 

Bad Faith Podcast, January 6, 2023 [YouTube]


The Dark Side

The Real Santos Shocker

[Puck, via The Big Picture 1-4-2023]

Robert Zimmerman, the Democrat who lost to Santos, was a veritable oppo expert in a past life. So how come he failed to deliver the Santos bombshell himself?


8 unanswered questions from the Jan. 6 committee report

[Grid, via The Big Picture 1-1-2023]

They include how pipe bombs got to the DNC and RNC headquarters, and how much Trump and his allies knew ahead of the attack.


How Adrian Fontes plans to protect Arizona’s elections from ‘Maga fascists’ 

[​​​​​​​The Guardian, via The Big Picture 1-3-2023]

he Democrat who defeated a hard-right extremist in the midterms to be the next secretary of state doesn’t mince words


The Secret to Ron DeSantis’s Success? Ignore Donald Trump—and Attack Business Instead

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 1-6-2023]

Can the Florida governor’s fight with corporate America win back the White House for Republicans?

[TW: Perhaps the possibility is arising that the right will join the left in opposing concentrated economic power?]


Excerpts from Michael J. Thompson, The Politics of Inequality: A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America, New York, NY, Columbia University Press, 2007.


…the economic egalitarian tradition that I will present here is so crucial because it is at the heart of the American republican project itself. The American idea of a democratic republic had always been premised on an antipathy toward unequal divisions of property because early American thinkers saw in those unequal shares of economic power echoes of what had been historically overturned: a sociopolitical order of rank and privilege; a static society that sought to crystallize power relationships and hierarchical economic and social relations characterized by corruption and patronage; in short, a feudal order where the exercise of power was arbitrary and the prospect of domination pervaded everyday life. The reason I trace the historical development and inevitable dissolution of the discourse on economic inequality in American political thought is to show that the American republican project was, in fact, deeply tied to the issues of economic inequality as a reaction to feudal social relations. Any political community that suffers from severe imbalances between rich and poor is in danger of losing its democratic character….

…economic inequality must also be seen in political terms: in the ways that it creates new forms of hierarchy, social fragmentation, and constraints on individual liberty. American political thought was, at least through the beginings of the twentieth century, a mixture of liberal and republican themes. Politically, the emphasis on individual liberty was matched by a concern for a community of equals. Republican themes emphasized the need for the absence of domination, which was itself understood as the ability of one person to arbitrarily interfere with another. This was a more robust understanding of freedom than liberalism offers since it was sensitive to the ways that institutions bound working people to conditions that eroded their substantive freedom and rights….

What writers and thinkers within the economic egalitarian tradition sought to emphasize was the way that the growing disparity of economic power would form the groundwork for distortions in political and social power. New forms of economic life would foster not individual liberty and independence but a new form of economic dependence of working people on others (namely owners) and the erosion of social and political freedom. At the root of the American economic egalitarian tradition is the notion that economic divisions lead inexorably to political and social inequalities of power; that the essence of any real sense of political equality could only be guaranteed by a sensibly equal distribution of property and wealth. This meant that political and economic life were in fact inseparable and that social power was a function not only of political power but of the ways that individuals had the power over their own economic life and the ability to direct their lives independently of others—whether political tyrants or factory owners. Historically, Americans were reacting against the memories and vestiges of aristocracy and feudalism. This formed part of a political-historical consciousness that militated against class divisions. The fear of the aristocracy and the destruction of America’s republican experiment were therefore at the core of early American ideas about inequality. The political moment was therefore always explicit, and this is something that has been lost in contemporary American attitudes toward economic power and class inequality….

Chapter I. The Critique of Economic Inequality in Western Political Thought: The Continuity of an Idea

…The critique of economic inequality seems to be a fairly consistent theme because it was always bound to the discussion of how to govern with justice, or at least with some degree of order. This motivation is interesting because, unlike the approach of many scholars to the question of the emergence of equality as a political ideal in Western political thought, it indicates that economic inequality was not critiqued simply because it was seen as morally wrong but because it was viewed as a concrete social ill that would, more often than not, erode social cohesion, create political fragmentation, and even, in its worst instances, lead to the dissolution of the political community itself….

…The critics of inequality that make up the American egalitarian tradition interpreted economic inequality as not only pernicious in and of itself but also as a threat to social and individual freedom. The overwhelming majority of these critics saw that the political institutions of America’s republican democracy could only function once there was a relative absence of unequal wealth….

[Plato argued that] Justice is not to be found in good acts or in the mere existence of “just” laws and virtuous rulers. More important, justice is found in the arrangement of social structure itself; it is manifest in the specific way that the polis is organized, with all having equal shares because each class depends on the activities of all others. The promotion of economic equality is therefore part and parcel of the project of building a just city. Plato’s Republic therefore privileges economic equality in the light of a broader political and moral concern for social solidarity and the desire to prevent the fragmentation of community and the dissolution of political society itself. Economic inequality is not viewed simply in the light of justice or fairness, it is also, and to a certain extent more essentially, seen as crucial to the very survival of the political community itself.

The general view of social harmony and wholeness informs the classical republican idea, and it is central in understanding the basic foundations for the discourse of economic equality in Western thought. Plato, as well as other Greek thinkers of the period, saw that the institution of the polis was something that was naturally formed not something that existed naturally. The difference is crucial: individuals come together for mutual support and to take advantage of the different abilities that each individual, family, or class has to offer. Society flourishes only when it is efficient and each person is able to dedicate himself to his task and therefore enrich the totality of the polis—individual self-sufficiency is dependent on the maintenance of the social totality….

[Cicero wrote] “When one person or a few stand out from the crowd as richer and more prosperous, then, as a result of their haughty and arrogant behavior, there arises [a government of one or a few], the cowardly and weak giving way and bowing down to the pride of wealth.”  Cicero is able to point to the deformation of republican government under the influence of wealth and the imbalance it creates. It is not that he advocates the redistribution of property by the state, but rather that laws are to be made so that the possession of wealth remains a private affair, never becoming a public one. Laws are therefore to be crafted to treat all citizens equally, irrespective of their economic status: “Since law is the bond which unites the civic association, and the justice enforced by law is the same for all [ius autem legis aequale], by what justice can an association of citizens be held together when there is no equality among citizens? For if we cannot agree to equalize men’s wealth, and equality of innate ability is impossible, the legal rights of those who are citizens of the same commonwealth ought to be equal. For what is a state except an association or partnership in justice?”

….The broader aim of political life for classical thinkers, of whom Cicero is only one of the more articulate exemplars, was the protection of the public good in the face of private interests so that citizens could live a life bereft of subjugation and domination and free from the interference of others. They saw economic inequality not simply as an empirical reality produced naturally by competing interests but more likely as a result of moral corruption itself. Plato refers to it as philochrematon, the “love of wealth”; both Plato and Aristotle also use the term chrematistikon, or the “art of wealth seeking”; and Cicero refers to the “worshiping of wealth” (admiratione divitiarum). But irrespective of the name, they saw the ascendance of economic life over politic life as fatal to republican government….

[Montesquieu wrote] “Though real equality be the very soul of a democracy, it is so difficult to establish, that an extreme exactness in this respect would not be always convenient. Sufficient is it to establish a census, which shall reduce or fix the differences to a certain point: it is afterwards the business of particular laws to level, as it were, the inequalities, by the duties laid upon the rich, and by the ease afforded to the poor. It is moderate riches alone that can give or suffer this sort of compensation; for as to men of overgrown estates, everything which does not contribute to advance their power and honor is considered by them as an injury….” [emphasis by TW]

….The coherence of this tradition lies not in the prescriptions that these various thinkers articulated to diminish economic inequalities but in the way that they all conceptualized inequalities of wealth and property as diminishing the strength of the political community and any kind of democratic or republican political culture. All believed that political life would be threatened by the unequal power relations that the concentration of economic power—wealth and property—created. The discourse also shows a growing response to the emergence and dominance of a market economy, and it shows a consistent concern with the welfare of the public, of society as a whole over its minority interests. Even those thinkers—such as Aristotle, Smith, and Hegel—who argue that there is a “natural inequality” between human beings do not argue that inequalities within society should persist if they lead to the dominance of one class. Indeed, what is consistently argued by both radical and moderate alike is that markets create inequalities that ought not to be tolerated and that require the intervention of society or the state.

[TW: Always remember that the conservative and libertarian movements were created, directed, and extremely well funded by the rich; and the rich continue to devote billions of dollars to support The American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the (anti)Federalist Society and Leonard Leo, Kevin McCarthy, Ted Cruz, and other (anti)Republican politicians.]


The Debt Limit and The Constitution: How The Fourteenth Amendment Forbids Fiscal Obstructionism

Jacob D. Charles [Duke Law Journal, 2013]

Reference: the Public Debt Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

[TW: Charles, from what I can see, appears to be an originalist with views on the Second Amendment and gun “rights” I do not agree with. But he has some very interesting things to say about the (anti)Republican Congressmen who want to force a government shutdown in the name of “fiscal responsibility”:]

…Congress has acted unconstitutionally during debates over raising the debt limit by causing the validity of the public debt to be questioned in violation of the Public Debt Clause….

Assuming a departmentalist account of executive power, when
the Public Debt Clause is violated by congressional actions that place the debt’s validity in substantial doubt, the president can refuse to enforce—that is, refuse “to carry into effect”32—the debt limit and order the Treasury Secretary to continue borrowing funds to meet the government’s obligations. This authority is not an imperial power, but a solemn duty—a requirement that the president refuse to allow Congress to violate the Constitution….

The Fourteenth Amendment has a long, complex, and
controversial history.35 It is clear, however, that a central goal of the amendment was to ensure that if and when Southerners were
readmitted to the Union and to elected office, they could not undo the results of the Civil War.36 This protection was necessary because as a consequence of emancipation and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the South and its interests would receive increased representation in Congress, a fact that did not sit well with many loyal Unionists….

…on September 22, 1865—less than a year before ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment—the Liberator printed a speech by Senator Charles Sumner recounting the ominous words of an unnamed Virginian Democratic congressional candidate: “I am opposed to the Southern States being taxed for the redemption of this [Union] debt, either directly or indirectly.”67 Not only was the quoted candidate ideologically opposed to the idea, but he also vowed to act on his opposition: “[I]f elected to Congress, I will oppose all such measures, and I will vote to repeal all laws that have heretofore been passed for that purpose; and, in doing so, I do not consider that I violate any obligation to which the South was a party.” ….

…the legislative history suggests that the Public Debt Clause was meant to encompass the public debt of the United States generally, not only the debt incurred in the Civil War, and was, at least in part, designed to put the public debt above the vagaries of partisan politics….

In particular, the text and historic understanding suggest that actions by the government that substantial doubt about the validity of the public debt—actions short of direct repudiation or outright default—are unconstitutional. create… if the correct reading of the Public Debt Clause encompasses some lesser conduct—level (3)—then both repudiation and default are also prohibited, but some government action that precedes both default and repudiation would also be unconstitutional. This lower level of government action includes conduct that creates
pervasive lack of confidence in the government’s ability to meet its obligations by generating widespread doubt about the validity of the public debt….

Every indication suggests that the increasing vehemence
surrounding debt-limit legislation will continue indefinitely.246 Some of these debates will be contentious, even hostile, but still
constitutional. Others, those that create substantial doubt about the validity of the debt, will be unconstitutional.248 Directed by well defined constitutional guideposts, the president should disregard the debt limit when congressional obstructionism rises to the level of creating substantial doubt about the continuing validity of the public debt.


Bannon: “we’re not going to raise the debt ceiling one penny”

[via Mike Norman Economics 1-7-2023]


The Constitutional Case for Disarming the Debt Ceiling

Thomas Geoghegan, January 6, 2023 [The New Republic]

…In Federalist Number 30, Hamilton explains that the power to tax and borrow is conferred on the new government only for the purpose of preventing a default or ensuring the payment of the debt. Article I is not open-ended but a grant of limited powers for specific purposes. If Hamilton is right, then it is a mistake to argue—as some legal scholars have—that the power to “borrow money on the credit of the United States” includes the “lesser” power of not paying the debt and willfully ruining the credit….

But this argument over Section 4 misses the point: Its purpose was not to newly assert that a willful destruction of the public credit was unconstitutional. It was already unconstitutional, under the 1787 Constitution, as explained by Hamilton in Federalist Number 30….


Roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980

Heather Cox Richardson, January 4, 2023 [Letters from an American]

The roots of today’s Republican worldview lie in the Reagan Revolution of 1980.
Reagan and his allies sought to dismantle the regulation of business and the social welfare state that cost tax dollars, but they recognized those policies were popular. So they fell back on an old Reconstruction era trope, arguing that social welfare programs and regulation were a form of socialism because they cost tax dollars that were paid primarily by white men while their benefits went to poor Americans, primarily Black people or people of color. In that formula, first articulated by former Confederates after the Civil War, minority voting was a form of socialism that would destroy America.

When Reagan used this argument, he emphasized its idea of economic individualism over its racism, but that racism was definitely there, and many of his supporters heard it. When he stood about seven miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Ku Klux Klan members had murdered civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner just 16 years before as they tried to register Black people to vote, and said “I believe in states’ rights,” the racist wing of the old Democratic Party knew what he meant and voted for him.

In the years since, party leaders cut taxes and deregulated business while rallying voters with warnings that government policies that regulated business, provided a social safety net, or protected civil rights were socialism that redistributed white tax dollars to minorities. In the 1990s, under the leadership of House speaker Newt Gingrich, Chamber of Commerce lawyer Grover Norquist, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, the party purged from its ranks traditional Republicans, replacing them with ideological fellow travelers.

As their policies threatened to lose voters by concentrating wealth upward and hollowing out the middle class, Republicans increasingly warned that minority voters wanted socialism and were destroying the nation to get it. Trump rode that narrative to power, and now tearing down the current government is the idea that drives the Republican base.


Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

Rick Perlstein, November 13, 2012 [The Nation]

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”


SchiffGold — Missouri Bill Would Take Steps Toward Treating Gold and Silver as Money

[SchiffGold, via Mike Norman Economics 1-7-2023]

[Tom Hickey comments: “Whatever. The only thing the bill does that actually counts financially is defining gold and silver as currencies rather than commodities, thereby “eliminating the state capital gains tax on gold and silver.” Otherwise it confuses “money” as a token used in exchange with a currency as a unit of account functioning as the basis of an accounting system.” TW: And, it is obviously another front in oligarchs’ war against self-government.]


Open Thread


Why The American Radical Right Is Powerful And The American Left Is Meaningless


  1. Trinity

    Paul Krugman to start off this list just ruins it for me. If ever there was a paid ‘splainer (and apologist) it’s Krugman.

    “The more interesting question is why we’re now ruled by such people. For we’re clearly living in the age of the petulant oligarch….”

    So instead of just ruled by “oligarchs for the last two thousand or so years”, minus a couple of decades, his complaint is that they are now petulant, after demonstrating/apologizing for being petulant himself. I’m actually happy they are becoming petulant. It means they aren’t getting their way in all things.

    He means for us to focus on their petulance, so we will gloss over the “oligarch” part. They do this all the time, like a magician redirecting attention “over there” so we don’t notice what’s going on “over here”. He’s suggesting that if somehow we can cure their petulance, all will be right with the world. His article adds nothing, and he stole the title from an article from December. Absolutely drivel.

  2. bruce wilder

    Infidel753 via AngryBear:

    China is a rapidly-aging society, demographically crippled by the aftereffects of the disastrous one-child policy, its people isolated from the world and held back at every turn by a ruthless and paranoid totalitarian regime with a truculent and belligerent stance toward other nations. India is a youthful and vigorous democracy with a strong entrepreneurial culture, and open to the outside world; still beset by widespread poverty, yes, but so were the US and other now-advanced countries a few generations ago. While China’s façade has lately fallen to reveal a Ponzi economy imploding into stagnation, India feels like a boom beginning to happen. And given India’s huge population, that boom will reverberate around the world in the years to come.

    I clicked thru to AngryBear where there were no comments and to the originating, where the comments were all high-praise.

    I know we live in the simplified reality of hypernormalization, where everyone pretends things are working and will keep working and no one thinks to engage in actual discussion with other opposing or critical points of view, but there’s something more than slightly ridiculous in a world facing overpopulation, ecological collapse and resource depletion, to be praising India for its contributions to overpopulation and damning China for tackling the existential threat its overpopulation posed to its hope of prosperity.

    There’s no acknowledgment in these remarks of ambivalence or awareness that India might be struggling to feed vast numbers already. There’s a famous quotation from Gandhi:

    God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the west … keeping the world in chains. If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts.

    There’s something wrong psychologically with people who can “think” about economics and politics in such over-simplified terms and who feel no need to cope with a complex reality, a reality that in this case is shouting at us continual announcements of impending doom.

    I don’t think Deng’s reforms that set China’s rapid modernization in motion are even conceivable without incorporating some radical and effective intervention to reduce fertility and population growth rates. One could quibble about the details and cringe at the authoritarian quality of the one-child policy, but to imagine that China’s demographics could follow a counterfactual path of rapid growth in the 1990s and later and still allow a modern industrialization is just insane.

    Acknowledging as much doesn’t require that one ignore the consequences for China of an aging population. But, that’s the complexity of the real world that we have to cope with, politically and economically and I would think, intellectually. To think India, with nearly half its population barely fed and a society strained by the economic precarity imposed on vast numbers unable to find employment in the modern economy, is going to experience “a boom” speaks to a disconnect from reality.

  3. Astrid

    Labor force hasn’t been the limiting factor for economies for at least 50 years. In most advanced economies, most of us are really doing bullshit jobs that ultimately serves to enforce the power of the owner class. If we did away with all the jobs that move money from one ledger to another (accounting, banking, advertisement, markets, sales, administration, means testers, lawyers, influencing, checkout clerks, billers, insurance), there would be plenty of labor to nurse, teach, farm, manufacture, etc.

    The whole population bomb argument is really mindbendingly stupid when applied to modern economies. Yes, back when the production of a single actual laborer could only feed 1.2 people, there are hard caps on the amount of nonproductive, non-agricultural people could be sustained for a given demographic – though the main constraints in premodern society are the number of able bodied men that can be fielded in war and thus able to defend and expand.

    But now that agriculture and warfighting is only using up single digit portions of developed economies? There’s really no production related reason why a somewhat elderly population could not still produce enough and field a sufficient army for defense. The only limit is distribution and how much our masters can squeeze out of us, not because they need it but because they can.

    How is it that a single breadwinner in the 50s and 60s could support a family in reasonable comfort and security, but the “more productive” denizens of today working similar jobs find themselves barely able to keep a roof over their heads despite being DINKs or living with roommates? How is this a problem of production, as opposed to financialization of everything (college, housing, car, childcare, healthcare) deemed necessary to live a modern life?

    That AngryBear article appears to also overlooks that the Indian “democracy” is ruled by Hindu chauvinists who consider Muslims, tribespeople, and lower caste peoples to be subhuman, and periodically descends into communal violence against disfavored groups. I just can’t see how that’s going to turn out well, even before climate change and resource depletion is considered. Whatever the current Chinese government’s faults, it is very consciously not chauvinist and is heavy handed about enforcing social harmony.

  4. VietnamVet

    Republican Democracy was overthrown in the West and autocracy replaced it in the Clinton Era. Debt slavery reinstated. It is just that no one acknowledges it. I read Paul Krugman religiously until around 2015 but “Petulant Oligarchs” is unreadable.

    Republicans went crazy with the Iraq Invasion in 2003. Clinton/Obama/Biden Corporate Democrats insanely decided to go to war with Russia in 2014. The current corporate-state propaganda across the board is just as divorced from reality as the Third Reich or the Soviet Union.

    The tragedy of human mental illness is that they don’t realize that they are sick. It is the relatives and others who have to deal with trauma. The radical republicans are intent on destroying government. Unable to comprehend that it will be the end of the US dollar and will lead to the collapse of western civilization.

    How dire the current situation is signified by the collapse of public health systems across the world. Roughly 13,000 Americans are dying each month with coronavirus. This is equivalent to two WWII Iwo Jima battles being fought each month since last March. The eugenics movement is on the march.

    2023 is when the chickens come home to roost. The USA is devolving into another Brazil. Or, is Brazil evolving into the southern premier nation by joining South America to the new BRICS currency system?

    Human beings, so far, are unable to deal with endemic coronavirus or the economic chaos of the Second Cold/Hot War. Ultimately a human extinction event on earth will only be avoided unless we cooperate, share resources and give peace a chance.

  5. Raad

    Bruce: a profound disconnect with reality and also hope fulfilment given the horrid inequality in India and the hope that despite that it can still boom in any way positive and not negative

    Also that Aurelius(or whatever) article about no go areas in ethnic suburbs is also similarly bs conservative tosh that is often used to justify horrid police state budgets and practices

  6. Anthony K Wikrent

    Trinity – It’s not that Krugman is some paragon of civic virtue. But, he does represent, to some degree or another, an important faction of the USA ruling elite, so it is worth noting that some members of that elite (assuming it’s not just Krugman alone) are now thinking that 1) there is an oligarchy, and 2) some of the oligarchs are not benefiting society. From an intelligence (ie, espionage) basis, it is important to identify and try to understand these shifts in elite thinking.

    It were better that Krugman and others realized that the rich, as the historical record clearly and repeatedly shows, harbor character flaws that are reasonably described as sociopathic – which is why I added the quote from Montesquieu.

    And this is not a problem exclusive to western societies, or capitalist economies, as the historical record, again, clearly and repeatedly shows. Confucius wrote “The gentleman understands what is moral; the small man understands what is profitable.” And, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

  7. Purple Library Guy

    On India, I’m with bruce wilder and Astrid. Add in the fact that India seems strongly committed to neoliberal capitalism, which doesn’t work well, and certainly doesn’t work well for developing an economy.

    About the best that India can expect going forward is more of the same: A small upper-crust economy partly unmoored from, partly preying on a vast impoverished agricultural hinterland having everything good sucked out of it by transnational corporations. The worst is that the hinterland implodes–around the time the transnationals have finished exhausting the soil and driving the peasants to suicide, the monsoons fail and Indian agriculture just totally collapses. At which point it becomes starkly obvious that apart from a few tech companies, the Indian economy was mostly just a bunch of comprador parasites hanging onto some of the wealth being extracted from the countryside, and once the countryside goes down so do they.

    Of course maybe there will be a revolution before it gets quite that far.

    But there is no scenario where India develops in the sense that China has, nor would be even without unsustainable population growth, because the Indian elites are neoliberals with no interest in public goods or infrastructure.

  8. Purple Library Guy

    The MMT article annoys me, in that it starts off by accepting a key premise which is completely bollocks. I mean frankly, I don’t think the last couple of years of government spending say much about MMT one way or another, but the story being told apparently is “During Covid, governments spent a lot and that caused inflation, therefore MMT is bunk”. Except government spending didn’t CAUSE the inflation! It’s pretty clear that almost all the inflation was caused by supply bottlenecks, speculation based on the supply bottlenecks, and profiteering that took advantage of the other inflation to juice profits.
    Sure, probably some amount of inflation was actually caused by government spending giving money to people and the people spending that money. But very little of it. So if you’re saying “A happened, therefore MMT is bunk” your argument kind of fails if A DIDN’T HAPPEN.
    So the article annoys me when it starts by saying “Well yeah, A happened but that doesn’t mean . . .” because, like, that’s false.

    Mind you, I’m not really a huge MMT booster. I mean, they’re probably kind of right as far as it goes (and to be clear, MMT does NOT say that government spending can’t cause inflation–they say it can, but for different reasons and with somewhat different constraints than conventional theory would say) but MMT just doesn’t explain very much about the economic world. It’s a theory about a detail masquerading as a grand economic theory. In financialized times it’s an important detail, yes, but MMT is hardly a grand theory of economics. And I suspect that’s exactly WHY it gets a fair amount of mainstream press. MMT defines the horizon of allowable dissent; as a theory that says nothing about whether markets are efficient (they aren’t), or about labour economics, or about public goods, or about the environment and other externalities, or about social welfare, or about international trade, it’s something that it’s OK to see economists arguing about, because even if it’s true all it presents is a minor argument that government spending is not inherently problematic in one particular way. In the “Propaganda Model” of media, where establishment media allow lively disagreement on everything from A to B to help people ignore the rest of the alphabet, Modern Monetary Theory is the B.

  9. Willy

    My concern @ Krugman’s article is with the “many admirers” of both privilege and petulism.

    My own personal theory is that about half of any population are what I call “traditional thinkers”. They prefer a status quo, prevailing cultural values, reasoning binarily and moving in herds. These hump-of-the-bell-curve folks also seem frightened by change.
    This would explain the centuries-long concentrations of Hindus in India, Moslems in Arabia, petulant rich assholes in the States… All this inertia against cultural change has to be coming from somewhere.

    I remember how impressed I was viewing my first Boeing Vice President from afar. He had thousands under him. He wore expensive suits, traveled with entourages of beautiful assistants, even had people speaking for him while he’d control their speaking with mere glances. He seemed most impressive at the time.

    But then mostly due to pure chance I got to meet three of these VP level uber mensch, in separate occasions, mano-a-mano. I remembered trying to decipher some Steven Hawking thought, not from books written for hump-of-the-bell-curve laymen, but actual theoretical musings meant for peer review. Dude’s smart. And now I’m going to meet a smart dude.

    Disappointingly, each brief encounter with these VPs was nothing like that. Instead of an esoteric wizard full of brilliant mathematical musings, these overlords were more like a neighborhood kid smug with the fact that they’d won the neighborhood kid Monopoly game. And each time (and this seems the important part to me), they seemed to want to get the hell away from me. I’d only wanted to discuss actual, important business with an esoteric wizard from the upper echelons. They didn’t seem to want to do this. I think they didn’t want me to know their little secret. I think they could sense that I wasn’t acting “bossism” enough.

    But try telling that to a traditional thinker.

  10. Trinity

    Tony, I am very appreciative of the work you do. I can only imagine how much work it is. I look forward to your post every single week.

    But I am absolutely, positively not interested in what Krugman or any other oligarch-adjacent person thinks about oligarchs. To me, he’s appealing to us to assuage them, nothing more or less. That shouldn’t even be in consideration. I think you ascribe to him qualities that he may or may not have, but he is still paid to direct our attention in the direction that his paymasters wish. There is no actionable intel there, nothing we don’t already know.

    Back in the day I used to think he was one of the good guys. Since Krugman is old, and has been around awhile, I’m positive he didn’t just discover that we are ruled by oligarchs. He’s also aware that his discipline has been subverted.

    And no matter what he may think, his livelihood still depends on his serving his masters. How much is enough? Has he earned enough yet? It’s people like him who perpetuate this system, and it’s also people like him who could do something about it, but don’t.

    I totally get where you are coming from, but the only trend I see is he’s appealing to us to fix a problem he had a somewhat substantial part in creating, while still wanting to maintain the status quo that he benefits from.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén