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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – July 20, 2019

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

“Can the Left Even Understand Why the Right is winning?”

Philip Mirowski, who has detailed the history of the “neoliberal thought collective,” the Mont Pelerin Society, posted the first draft of a new paper,  “Can the Left Even Understand Why the Right is winning?” It can be viewed if you register with and Mirowski grants you permission. Explaining the rise of Trump and a conservatism that is increasingly open about its bigotry,  Mirowski rejects the “bromidic term ‘populism’” and points instead to

the recent bounty of exceptional work on the history of neoliberalism [including] Quinn Slobodian, Globalists (Harvard, 2018); Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos (Zone, 2015); Thomas Biebricher, The Political Theory of Neoliberalism (Stanford, 2018); Nancy MacLean, Democracy in Chains, (Viking, 2017); Melinda Cooper, Family Values (Zone, 2017); and Jessica Whyte, The Morals of the Market, (Verso, 2019).

Mirowski observes:

…it seems many activists on the left hold out few ambitions for any sort of ‘fusionist’ project themselves, and instinctively shy away from an explicit political economy, and therefore have not been capable of understanding the relative unity of the forces arrayed against them. If someone suggests otherwise, the tendency has been to disparage such thinking as tainted by ‘conspiracy theories’….

The biggest intellectual failure of the left is its demonstrated incapacity to theorize the role and significance of markets. Curiously, unlike the most sophisticated neoliberals, much of the left still buys into the myth of the government vs. the market. That is, they imagine a separate entity called government existing outside of something called ‘the market’, with the former possessing the wisdom to identify ‘market failures’ and rectify them with judicious ‘regulation’.

After discussing how neoliberals themselves have not agreed on any exact definition of “markets” — perhaps intentionally (“to render political action by the masses so difficult as to be permanently stymied, both by restricting the franchise but also by the strategic production of ignorance, which renders political understanding inchoate”) — Mirowski gets to his key critique of the left’s ignorance concerning neoliberalism:

There are two very important facts about neoliberals that the left needs to take to heart: [1] They do not believe in laissez faire, but are unrepentantly constructivist about government—that is, they acknowledge the tenet that their minions must occupy the government at whatever level (local, national, transnational) and in whatever ways are deemed effective to bring about the sort of ‘reforms’ they believe are urgent; and [2] They take seriously the epistemic premise that people are generally imperfect cognitive beings, and that (their definition of) The Market knows more than any human being ever could about the world. Both principles may seem rather paradoxical given their publicly stated doctrines, something that numerous writers have explored in detail.  But those on the Left seem especially incapable of taking either one seriously, and thus to attain understanding how these two principles interact.

Ever since Hillary Clinton lost a presidential election that was uniquely hers to lose, I have thought it almost comical that we have Democratic Party elites and liberal leaders who, on one hand, have repeatedly rejected the argument that the creation and promotion of movement conservatism amounts to a dedicated conspiracy by wealthy reactionaries with manifold ties to Wall Street, and on the other hand, have been almost hysterical in their insistence that the election was stolen from Hillary by a conspiracy run by Vladimir Putin and his Russian minions. Why they reject the one conspiracy theory but embrace the other, is not too difficult to understand, in the context of the USA political system’s utter dependency on the rich for campaign contributions.

During my community organizing days in the 1980s, when I was with a radical group within the Democratic Party trying to stop NAFTA, I repeatedly encountered an unwillingness among leftists to even consider direct political action targeting specific individuals responsible for political atrocities. This unwillingness to “name names” approached hysteria when facts were presented that much of the USA industrial base was being bought and looted by “leverage buyout” corporate raiders with significant financial backing from organized crime. I remain of the opinion that this unwillingness to face these facts was a reflection of personal and institutional cowardice to confront the immense political power of Wall Street, and the potentially violent retribution of organized crime. Especially by the late 1980s, when it was clear to those willing to see that Wall Street and organized crime had pretty much merged. (See for example the conclusion by Catherine Austin Fitts, managing director of Dillon, Read & Co. at the time, that the $25 billion buyout of RJR Nabisco in 1989 only made sense if Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts — and whoever KKR actually was acting on behalf of — needed to launder billions of dollars of dirty money).


My group was also tracking a number of different economic metrics that by the mid-1990s clearly indicated that we had lost — and lost big. The significant ones I remember was that the dollar amount of mergers and acquisitions had eclipsed measures such as private expenditures on new plant and equipment, total national research and development spending, and total national capital expenditures.

Today, I think the same type of unwillingness to “name names” is reflected in the insistence that there are no solutions because the real problem is overpopulation. My three decades of political fighting is informed by my apparently unusual historical reading on the USA Whig Party that gave way to the Republican Party in the 1850s, and the “American School” political economy of that now forgotten faction in USA political history. (It is highly instructive that the Wikipedia entry on the American School is flagged for possible violation of “neutral point of view.”) One of the key tenets of American School economists was their explicit and often fierce rejection of the “overpopulation” doctrine of British East India Company apologist Thomas Malthus.

To make my point clear: I firmly believe that almost all the problems we face are easily solved, usually using technologies already developed or in development, and the real obstacles are political and economic arguments against the solutions, which usually come down to “how do we pay for it?” or “it costs too much” or some other “scarcity” argument grounded in the classical economic school descended from Malthus, Smith, and Ricardo. Thorstein Veblen shredded the “scarcity” argument in his various discussions of how modern industrial economies are beset by “sabotage” by business managers seeking to artificially maintain higher prices by limiting industrial output and productivity.

One of the footnotes in Mirowski’s new paper led me to poking around in Theda Skocpol’s site Research on the Shifting U.S. Political Terrain, hosted by Harvard University.

Another footnote was to this study, byAlex Hertel-Fernandez, Theda Skocpol & Jason Sklar:  WHEN POLITICAL MEGA-DONORS JOIN FORCES: How the Koch Network and the Democracy Alliance Influence Organized U.S. Politics on the Right and Left. In his new paper on why the left is clueless, Mirowski writes,

What sets the Kochs apart from most other billionaires infatuated with right-wing politics is that, from the very beginning, at least one of the brothers understood the imperative to build a completely integrated full-service political structure on a national scale, starting with some elite cadres to develop political ideas, some think tanks to reduce the ideas to just-in-time bite-size chunks, an intermediate set of entities to translate those ideas into local political contexts, and a further outer ring of direct action foot soldiers to either organize or astroturf grassroots mobilization on the ground.

I hope that Democratic Party elites and liberal leaders will be forced to adjust their thinking by Mirowski’s and Skocpol’s work, cease their attacks on the progressives now challenging their power and status within the Democratic Party, and pivot to confrontthe real enemy: the one percent who have buried the American republic and built an oligarchy on its grave. But I’m not holding my breath.

For more on Skocpol’s work, see also

Democrats are losing to Republicans at the state level, and badly. Here’s why.

How the Right Trounced Liberals in the States


The Moral Vision After Neoliberalism
K. Sabeel Rahman [Democracy, Summer 2019, NO. 53]

Candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have unsurprisingly claimed a powerful narrative around the reinvention of our economic order, challenging inequality, corruption, and the rules of modern capitalism. But so too have candidates like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris highlighted the centrality of major issues including the racial wealth gap, while moderates like Amy Klobuchar have noted the problem of monopoly power as a driver of inequality. Even newer faces like Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg have centered their campaigns around important structural reforms like the abolition of the Electoral College. Nor is this renewed interest in big ideas necessarily driven by the candidates; rather the candidates are responding to a powerful push from grassroots movements—from the Movement for Black Lives to the renewed labor activism of the teacher strikes and the Fight for $15, to a bottom-up push for universal health care and democracy reform.

This ideas primary is reflective of an exciting and long overdue moment, as these conversations highlight two important shifts in progressive politics. First, there is an increasing move away from micro-scale policies that might poll well but do little toward transformative, structural reforms that reshape the background rules of our economy, our government, and our society to tackle deep systemic inequities. Second, this policy shift is accompanied by an urgent moral shift, a deeper questioning of what democracy and equal citizenship actually require. Americans cannot be fully equal in an economy that reduces many communities to conditions of economic precariousness, or a democracy that systematically disempowers communities of color and young people.

These ideas represent a direct challenge to the underlying neoliberal presumptions that have dominated our public political discourse for decades. While the term “neoliberalism” may feel both obscure and overused, it captures a very real configuration of values and policy prescriptions. Neoliberalism is a worldview that emphasizes the centrality of markets as a solution to public problems, and as the highest manifestation of individual freedom. This worldview is at once a set of policy prescriptions—deregulation, minimal government, “free enterprise” of the unshackled private sector—as well as a particular moral understanding of freedom as the license to engage in individualized market transactions.

“Parents’ emotional trauma may change their children’s biology. Studies in mice show how” [Science, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

“Today the hypothesis that an individual’s experience might alter the cells and behavior of their children and grandchildren has become widely accepted. In animals, exposure to stress, cold, or high-fat diets has been shown to trigger metabolic changes in later generations. And small studies in humans exposed to traumatic conditions—among them the children of Holocaust survivors—suggest subtle biological and health changes in their children. The implications are profound. If our experiences can have consequences that reverberate to our children or our children’s children, that’s a powerful argument against everything from smoking to immigration policies that split families.”

This research has enormous implications for economic policies that promote the general welfare, which should be the guiding goal in a republic. As Lambert Strether adds:

Or — follow me closely, here — deindustrializing flyover and destroying the livelihoods and communities of millions of people, ffs.* Class pops up in the oddes of places, doesn’t it? NOTE * See Chris Arnade’s Dignity.

“Rose and Eliza” 

Beto O’Rourke [Medium, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

“I was recently given documents showing that both Amy and I are descended from people who owned slaves. Along with other possessions listed in their property log were two human beings, Rose and Eliza…. The way that fortune was passed through the generations from Andrew to me, misfortune was passed through the generations from Rose and Eliza to their descendants who are alive today. Rose and Eliza were denied their freedom and the benefits that their labor produced; they and their children were then denied their civil rights after the end of Reconstruction; and their descendants endured open terrorism, economic exclusion and racism in the form of Jim Crow, lynchings, convict leasing, voter suppression, red lining, predatory lending, and mass incarceration. Everything their descendants have accomplished in their lives is despite having all of these odds stacked against them. In the aggregate, slavery, its legacy and the ensuing forms of institutionalized racism have produced an America with stark differences in opportunities and outcomes, depending on race.”

The Failure of Establishment Neoliberal Economics

Nobel Economist Says Inequality is Destroying Democratic Capitalism
[Evonomics, vis Mike Norman Economics 7-20-19]

In Clement Attlee’s 1945 cabinet—the cabinet that implemented the Beveridge Report and built the first modern welfare state—there were seven men who had begun their working lives at the coal face. When labor MPs from Glasgow set off to London, local bands and choirs came to the station to see them off as if they were going to war, which indeed they were. Only three percent of MPs elected in 2015 were ever manual workers, compared with sixteen percent as recently as 1979. The union movement, which once produced talents like those in Attlee’s cabinet, has been gutted by the success of postwar meritocracy. Attlee’s warriors would today have gone to university and become professionals; they would never have been down the pit, nor in a union hall. Meritocracy has many virtues, but, as predicted by Michael Young in 1958, it has deprived those who didn’t pass the exams, not only of social status and of the higher incomes that degrees bring, but even of the kind of political representation that comes from having people like themselves in parliament. Young wrote, “The bargaining over the distribution of national expenditure is a battle of wits, and defeat is bound to go to those who lost their clever children to the enemy.” He referred to the less educated group as “the populists” who, in turn, refer to the elite as “the hypocrisy.”

Montana, North Dakota push against Washington state rail law

[Tacoma News, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]
I like this article as a very specific example of how unregulated capitalism too often creates less than optimal solutions for society. “We may have blown up an entire town in Canada, but moving these volatile petrochemical through your state is completely safe. Trust us.”
See also Why Doing Harm Is Profitable
[Current Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 7-17-19]

“China’s economy just posted its lowest growth rate in 27 years”

[Business Insider, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“China’s economy has grown at its slowest pace in the past 27 years after the effects of President Donald Trump’s trade war outweighed the Chinese government’s efforts to stimulate the economy…. Most of the decline came from weakening exports because of the additional tariffs places upon Chinese goods.”

Lambert Strether: Not sure how this affects the social contract in China. I guess we’ll find out!
“Central Bankers Are Sick of Rescuing the World Economy Alone”
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

“Amid slowing global growth, the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and perhaps even the Bank of Japan are all set to ease monetary policy in coming months. But with less room to act than in the past, their leaders are telling politicians they will need to assist if a downturn takes hold… ‘For most advanced industrial countries, the monetary policy space is extremely limited,’ said Willem Buiter, a former Bank of England policy maker now special economic adviser to Citigroup. ‘We need the fiscal tools to safeguard ourselves against a possible slide into a global recession.’”

Federal Reserve’s review of its monetary policy strategy, tools, and communication practices

[via Mike Norman Economics 7-16-19]

Richard H Clarida: The Federal Reserve’s review of its monetary policy strategy, tools, and communication practices

Richard H Clarida, Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, at “The Bank of Finland Conference on Monetary Policy and Future of EMU (Economic and Monetary Union)”, Helsinki, 1 July 2019


Could the Apollo 11 moon landing be duplicated today? ‘Lots of luck with that’

[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-19]



Tech: “US mobile speeds are super slow. Here’s what we can do about it.” 

[Recode, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“Currently, the US ranks 40th in the world for mean mobile download speeds — up a mere three spots from last year, according to a new report from internet speed measurement company Ookla. More dismally, the country ranked 94th in mean mobile upload speeds, falling 21 spots from 2018…. If the US is behind — or even just in the middle of the pack — on 5G rollout compared to everybody else, it could significantly interfere with the country’s technological and economic progress. Remember that the move to 4G initiated technologies and companies that we hadn’t dreamed of with 3G — Uber and instant ride-hailing, for example. 5G is supposed to be exponentially faster. We don’t know yet what we might miss if we’re not ready.”

Australia now has the highest minimum wage in the world

[The Big Picture 7-15-19]

This is an animated chart that shows USA minimum wage being highest in the world in 1960s to dropping off the list of ten highest by 2008 or so. 


“Your Boss Might Be Ripping You Off: How To Protect Yourself From Wage Theft”

[Teen Vogue, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“Wage theft is a general term for paying workers less than what they’ve rightfully earned. Nobody knows exactly how much is stolen, but some experts estimate wage theft costs U.S. workers $50 billion a year. To put that number in perspective, all robberies, burglaries, and car thefts combined cost victims $14 billion, in 2012, according to FBI statistics. Wage theft affects millions of people, particularly women, people of color, and immigrants. Low-wage workers are acutely vulnerable to wage theft, and when wages are low to begin with, any amount the employer withholds can have dire consequences for the worker. The average low-wage worker loses $3,300 a year to wage theft, according to a survey by the Economic Policy Institute.”

“Disney heiress ‘livid’ after going to one of her family’s theme parks undercover” 

[MarketWatch, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

 “‘Every single one of these people I talked to were saying, ‘I don’t know how I can maintain this face of joy and warmth when I have to go home and forage for food in other people’s garbage,’ Disney, 59, told Yahoo News host and human rights activist Zainab Salbi in an interview posted Monday.”


[Inc, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

“CBS News reports that 3 million Americans over the age of 60 still have student debt. And the Wall Street Journal reports that in 2017, their average debt was $33,800, up 44 percent from 2010. And more than 40,000 people over 65 are having their Social Security payments, tax refunds, or other government payments garnished because they aren’t paying their student loans. That number has more than tripled in the last decade.”

10 Things You Need To Know About Automation And The Future Of Work

[Basis Point, via The Big Picture 7-18-19]

According to McKinsey, the U.S. economy is actually just a series of regional economies based around “megacities.” The top 25 cities in the country have contributed 2/3 of the job growth of the post-2008 recession economy, and everywhere else is trailing these elite urban centers….

NICHE CITIES OWN THE YOUNG AND THE OLDSmaller, off-beat cities like Bend, Oregon and Provo, Utah are hot for retirees, but also have huge inflows of young people due to their top-tier research colleges. Small niche cities like these have the second-highest rate of net migration, according to McKinsey.

THE MIDDLE CLASS IS EVAPORATINGThe 2010s are a world away from the heyday of the 90’s. In 1997, middle-class jobs counted for 49% of the economy, but only 41 percent in 2017. Some 2.9 million middle-wage jobs disappeared between 2007 and 2012, and the recovery hasn’t come close to replacing them.

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 7-17-19]

“In a recently published study, my co-author and I find that trade-related job losses are closely related to spikes in opioid-related overdose deaths. Less-educated males in Appalachia bear the brunt of free trade as well as the opioid epidemic. And as young people look for ways out of communities hurt by trade, enlistment in the U.S. Army also surges. It’s not just that youth are more willing to enlist after trade shocks — the military tends to send more recruiters to these communities…. In a recently published paper, Simeon Kimmel and I explored the nationwide relationship between free trade and the opioid epidemic. We found that 1,000 trade-related job losses in a given locality were associated with a 2.7 percent increase in opioid-related overdose deaths.”

See also Free Trade Is Elites Betraying Their Own Populations
[Ian Welsh, October 5, 2015]

“Failing to Plan: How Ayn Rand Destroyed Sears”

[Verso, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]
This is useful in showing the real world consequences of economic ideology.

“While companies like Walmart operate within the market, internally, as in any other firm, everything is planned. There is no internal market. The different departments, stores, trucks and suppliers do not compete against each other in a market; everything is coordinated. It is no small irony then, that one of Walmart’s main competitors, the venerable, 120-plus-year-old Sears, Roebuck and Company, destroyed itself by embracing the exact opposite of Walmart ‘s galloping socialization of production and distribution: by instituting an internal market.”

Restoring balance to the economy

“House votes to raise minimum wage, uniting Dems after months-long struggle”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

The House on Thursday passed legislation to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, following through on a key Democratic campaign promise and ending a six-month struggle within the caucus…. Democratic leaders only secured the necessary 218 votes days earlier by agreeing to phase in the wage increase over six years rather than five.”

Lambert Strether: “By 2025? Lol. Remember when Nancy Pelosi vowed to “take up a $15 minimum wage in the first 100 hours of the next Congress“? (Not 100 days, 100 hours.)
How Minneapolis Freed Itself From the Stranglehold of Single-Family Homes
[Politico, via The Big Picture 7-20-19]

Minneapolis just did away with the rules that gave single-family homes a stranglehold on nearly three-quarters of the city. In December, Neighbors for More Neighbors, the group co-founded by Flisrand and Edwards about two years ago to address Minneapolis’ affordable housing crisis, won a victory unseen in any other major American city. The city council approved the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan, which declares the city’s intent to abolish single-family-home zoning and allow duplexes and triplexes to be built anywhere in the city.

Cities across the country are booming, but their growth is exacerbating an already critical lack of affordable housing for the middle class and poor alike. The solutions being proposed in many cities run the gamut from rent control to federal subsidies, but Minneapolis has landed on something even bolder that strikes at the heart of how cities have grown and defined themselves over the past century. Single-family-only neighborhoods, a staple of city and suburban planning, are woven into the DNA of the American dream: the leafy, peaceful street lined with stand-alone houses, green lawns and plenty of elbow room. Minneapolis’ new vision of itself would essentially rewrite that code—reshaping the urban streetscape around walking and mass transit and rebooting the American dream to be more racially and economically inclusive….

How did Minneapolis do it? In other cities, NIMBYs—conservative “Not In My Back Yard” defenders of suburban-style living—often make alliances with left-wing critics of gentrification to choke off new supply. But in Minneapolis, a progressive city council persuaded a broad coalition of racial-justice activists and nonprofit affordable-housing advocates to align with zoning-reform supporters behind a package of housing efforts meant to help both the middle class and the poor. Along with Minneapolis 2040’s vision of a denser city, the city council also approved $40 million in affordable-housing funds and requirements that some developers include lower-cost units in their projects. New protections for tenants are coming next.

The Economist Who Would Fix the American Dream: No one has done more to dispel the myth of social mobility than Raj Chetty. But he has a plan to make equality of opportunity a reality.

[The Atlantic, via The Big Picture 7-20-19]

The work that has brought Chetty such fame is an echo of his family’s history. He has pioneered an approach that uses newly available sources of government data to show how American families fare across generations, revealing striking patterns of upward mobility and stagnation. In one early study, he showed that children born in 1940 had a 90 percent chance of earning more than their parents, but for children born four decades later, that chance had fallen to 50 percent, a toss of a coin.

….each of his studies has become a front-page media event (“Chetty bombs,” one collaborator calls them) that combines awe—millions of data points, vivid infographics, a countrywide lens—with shock. This may not be the America you’d like to imagine, the statistics testify, but it’s what we’ve allowed America to become. Dozens of the nation’s elite colleges have more children of the 1 percent than from families in the bottom 60 percent of family income. A black boy born to a wealthy family is more than twice as likely to end up poor as a white boy from a wealthy family. Chetty has established Big Data as a moral force in the American debate.

Wealth Distribution Analysis
Barry Ritholtz, July 18, 2019 [The Big Picture]

The Fed developed a data set that throws wealth disparities into high relief….

Supply-side economics doesn’t make everyone richer: There’s probably something for incumbents and challengers here, and it might also help settle a debate that has preoccupied economic wonks for years. We can now show data for the three decades following the adoption of Reaganomics, aka supply-side economics; that reducing the tax burden on the wealthy would lead to a burst of economic growth that would make everyone richer, and that wealth would trickle down from the top. The new data make it clear that the opposite has happened, and wealth inequality and income inequality have each increased.

This data helps us see that supply-side economics was always about shifting wealth from the low and middle ends of the wealth distribution toward the top. In other words, much of our wealth inequality is by design, the result of public policies. Whether this was done out of good faith or bad is up to you to decide.

“Kicked Off the Land” 

[The New Yorker, via Naked Capitalism 7-17-19]

“In the United States today, seventy-six per cent of African-Americans do not have a will, more than twice the percentage of white Americans. Many assume that not having a will keeps land in the family. In reality, it jeopardizes ownership. David Dietrich, a former co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Property Preservation Task Force, has called heirs’ property ‘the worst problem you never heard of.’ The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as ‘the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.’ Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land—3.5 million acres, worth more than twenty-eight billion dollars. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.”

Lambert Strether adds:

Holy moley, land title issues?! In the First World? (I just finished Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, and my amateur opinion is that land reform in the former Confederate states — that is, breaking up the plantations and given the land to the former slaves — was the only real way forward (besides hanging enough traitors to get the elite’s attention). Generalize Sherman’s Special Field Order #15, in other words. Whether that was ever a possible future is dubious; certainly it would never have happened after a vengeful Slave Power whacked Lincoln, and the ideological dominance of Wage Labor in the victorious North also worked against it (see the fate of the Port Royal experiment).

[Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

“Warren’s plan, the latest in a series of policy ideas that have propelled the Massachusetts senator to the top tier of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, would hold private equity firms liable for debts and pension promises made by the companies they buy up. It would restrict the firms’ ability to pay dividends as well as high fees that shift money out of acquired companies… Warren’s private equity proposals also include new rules that would require worker pay to take precedence over other obligations when companies declare bankruptcy as well as more open disclosure of investment firms’ fees, both of which are included in private legislation she’s set to introduce later Thursday alongside Senate and House Democratic colleagues. Her platform further calls for the restoration of dividing lines between commercial and investment banking that were repealed in 1999, a change that was part of both the Republican and the Democratic platforms during the 2016 presidential election despite Trump’s lack of emphasis on it during his campaign.”

Elizabeth Warren [Medium, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

“The purpose of the financial sector is to connect savers with borrowers as efficiently as possible and to spread risk. A growing financial sector can help the rest of the economy if it helps connect more people more efficiently and spreads risk more effectively. But, as several studies have shown, past a certain point, the growth of the financial sector undermines the rest of the economy by extracting money from it without producing any real value. America is well past that point…. Despite its breathtaking profits, America’s financial sector isn’t succeeding at its core purpose of connecting savers with borrowers quickly and efficiently. My plan would help push it in a better direction.”

[graph below via The Big Picture 7-19-19]


[Intercept, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

GND – An opportunity too big to miss

“Blue-Collar Workers: Let’s All Support the Green New Deal”

[Labor Notes, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“Fellow workers in the trades and other blue-collar workers, do not front for them! If we do their dirty work, who will support us when they attack us even more directly?… At present, workers will continue performing fossil fuel-based work, but we and our unions should not promote that work. Instead, we should advocate for a just transition through the Green New Deal. We can protect union members while also protecting our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”


“Political Scenarios for Climate Disaster”
[Dissent, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19] .

[H]ere in the Global North we often act as if our future will be a warmer version of today: liberal capitalism, plus flood insurance, minus coral reefs. That future is a fantasy. It already has a probability close to zero….At the heart of these problems is the capitalist nation-state that structures our world….

These two questions—of sovereignty and of capitalism—point toward four rough paths. We call these Climate Leviathan, Climate Mao, Climate Behemoth, and Climate X. Climate Leviathan describes an emergent global order committed to the consolidation of capitalism via the organization of a form of planetary sovereignty that can overcome the collective action problem. Climate Mao would represent a similarly planetary-scale “solution,” but one dedicated to an anti-capitalist order. Climate Behemoth describes a global arrangement animated by a chauvinistic capitalist and nationalist politics that denies—until it can only denounce—the threat climate change poses to national capitals. Climate X is the name we give the collection of movements that pursue global climate justice: movements that build non-capitalist political economies, and construct solidarities at multiple scales that reject the political logic of sovereignty.

“Arctic science at risk as University of Alaska braces for draconian budget cuts”

[Science, via Naked Capitalism 7-17-19]

“Paul Layer, UA’s vice president for academics, students, and research in Fairbanks, says one of his highest priorities ‘is to maintain our status in Arctic research. It’s the one thing we do better than anybody.’ UAF’s International Arctic Research Center, which partners with scientists across the United States and Japan to study weather, ocean acidification, and other topics, is funded largely by grants from nonstate sources. But it relies on state funding to pay for support staff and operations, as well as work requested by state agencies. And at UAF’s Center for Alaska Native Health Research, state funds often pay for sending researchers to remote villages, says Deputy Director Diane O’Brien. ‘Even when we are bringing in millions of dollars of [nonstate] support, these are research services that we depend on the university to provide from their state allocation,’ she says.”

“Sand Mafia” (a continuing series)
[National Geographic, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“Our modern civilization is built on sand: concrete, paved roads, ceramics, metallurgy, petroleum fracking—even the glass on smart phones—all require the humble substance. River sand is best: grains of desert sand are often too rounded to serve as industrial binding agents, and marine sand is corrosive. A United Nations study calculates, however, that humankind’s total consumption of sand—more than 40 billion tons a year—is now double the amount of sediments being replenished naturally on the Earth by the sum of the world’s rivers. Today, sand has become so valuable that it is shipped enormous distances: Australia sends boatloads of sand to Arabia for land reclamation projects. China, the world’s builder, is also the planet’s sand glutton. Between 2011 and 2014 alone, the Chinese poured more concrete—made up largely of sand—than the United States used during the whole of the 20th century. With its exploding megacities, India ranks second in the world’s sand consumption.”


Health Care Crisis

Democratic lawmakers accuse their own party of proposing ‘deep’ cuts to health centers for poor

[Washington Post, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]


Health spending and life expectancy
Barry Ritholtz, July 18, 2019 [The Big Picture]

…America’s health-care system is woefully dysfunctional: the country spends about twice as much on health care as other rich countries but has the highest infant-mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy…

“Why A ‘Public Option’ Isn’t Enough”

[Current Affairs, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“Not only will a public option fail to cover everyone, it will do nothing to restrain the growth of healthcare costs. Single payer systems control costs by giving the health service a monopoly on access to patients, preventing providers from exploiting desperate patients for profit. If instead there are a large number of insurance companies, providers can play those insurance companies off each other. Right now, we have a two-tier system, in which the best doctors and hospitals refuse to provide coverage unless your insurer offers them exorbitantly high rents. To support that cost while still making a profit, your insurer has to subject you to higher premiums, higher co-pays, and higher deductibles. Poor Americans with poor-quality insurance are stuck with providers who don’t provide high enough quality care to make these demands. The best providers keep charging ever higher rents, and the gap between the care they offer and the care the poor receive just keeps growing. Poor Americans are now seeing a decline in life expectancy, in part because they cannot afford to buy insurance that would give them access to the best doctors and hospitals.”

Information Age Dystopia

I-Team: Florida DMV sells your personal information to private companies, marketing firms

[WFTS, via Naked Capitalism 7-18-19]


Facebook As Your Debt Collector, and the Prospects for Libra

[Big by Matt Stoller, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-19]

“To Break Google’s Monopoly on Search, Make Its Index Public”

[Bloomberg , via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

“Fortunately, there is a simple way to end the company’s monopoly without breaking up its search engine, and that is to turn its “index”—the mammoth and ever-growing database it maintains of internet content—into a kind of public commons. There is precedent for this both in law and in Google’s business practices. When private ownership of essential resources and services—water, electricity, telecommunications, and so on—no longer serves the public interest, governments often step in to control them…. Doesn’t Google already share its index with everyone in the world? Yes, but only for single searches. I’m talking about requiring Google to share its entire index with outside entities—businesses, nonprofit organizations, even individuals—through what programmers call an application programming interface, or API.”

“Disgruntled Amazon Pilots Will Use Prime Day as a Pulpit for Their Concerns”

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

 “As Amazon readies for what will likely be two of its busiest days of the year, the pilots who transport its cargo are releasing a digital ad campaign on Facebook to highlight “concerns about how they are being overworked, underpaid and disrespected by their carriers. It’s the latest move in an increasingly bitter logistics saga as Amazon appeals to customers with faster and faster delivery options. In addition, he said the pilots are standing in solidarity with the Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota who are planning a Prime Day strike. A representative from the pilots’ union will be on the ground to show striking workers they have the support of Teamsters Local 1224.”

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

California moving toward awarding $1.65 billion hi-speed rail contract
[Railway Age 7-18-19]

Although the California hi-speed rail project has had a bumpy ride so far, state officials are on track to award a $1.65 billion contract to design and construct the tracks and system for the first segment of the line.

Pacific Northwest high-speed study completed

[Railway Age 7-18-19]

The one-year study was carried out by WSP along with Steer Davies Gleave, EnviroIssues, Paladin Partners and Transportation Solutions, and overseen by Washington State Department of Transportation, in partnership with Oregon Department of Transportation, the Canadian province of British Columbia and Microsoft, which shared the costs of the analysis.

The study examined the case for building a dedicated 350km/h line which would reduce Seattle – Vancouver and Seattle – Portland journey times to around an hour.
The analysis is based on construction between 2027 and 2034 followed by the first 40 years of operation. It confirms that the 500km line could be built within the $US 24-42bn in upfront construction cost estimated in the previous study, which was completed in 2017.

Initial annual revenues are forecast to range from $US 160m and $US 250m, with a “conservative” ridership estimate indicating the line could carry between 1.7 million and 3.4 million passengers in the first year of operation. Farebox revenues are forecast to cover all operating costs in the longer-term.

Skunk Works Building Bigger Fusion Reactor
Guy Norris [Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, via Aviation Week & Space Technology 7-19-19]

Lockheed Martin’s ambitious plans to develop a compact fusion reactor (CFR) to provide clean nuclear energy remain on track according to the company and are set to move to the next stage with the completion this year of a scaled up, more powerful test reactor at the Skunk Works in Palmdale, California.

Updating progress on the CFR project to Aviation Week which first broke news of the initiative in 2014, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works vice president and general manager Jeff Babione says “the work we have done today verifies our models and shows that the physics we are talking about – the basis of what we are trying to do – is sound. We continue to progress that capability.”

Unlike current nuclear power plants which utilize fission power, a process which involves the splitting of atoms to release energy for electricity, nuclear fusion is aimed at fusing together two hydrogen isotopes; deuterium and tritium. Not only would the subsequent reaction create abundant carbon-free energy (deuterium is produced from sea water and tritium from lithium), but it would theoretically do so with no major environmental impact, shorter-lived residual radiation and no meltdown risk….

With the ultimate goal of achieving reactor conditions, the Skunk Works plan is based on a series of progressively larger test reactors culminating in a TX prototype capable of demonstrate ignition conditions and the ability to run for upwards of 10 seconds in steady-state after the injectors, which will be used to ignite the plasma, are turned off. This will pave the way for development of an initial 100-megawatt production version capable of powering a ship or around 80,000 homes. Lockheed also envisages versions capable of powering large cargo and transport aircraft.

To-date the company has been working on the second iteration of its fourth test unit, T4B. “This year we are constructing another reactor – T5 – which will be a significantly larger and more powerful reactor than our T4,” says Babione.

Extreme Fast Charging: Revving Up the Electric Vehicle Era
[Machine Design Today 7-15-19]

Recent advances in producing and fabricating a range of nanostructured carbons and ionic liquid-based electrolytes have shown the feasibility of combining the power density of supercapacitors and the energy density of rechargeable batteries. The resulting cells work in a very similar way to electrostatic double-layer capacitors but use different carbon and electrolyte materials that are not only safer and easier to recycle at the end of life, but also enable the devices to operate at higher voltages, resulting in higher energy densities.

Why Space Exploration Is Worth the Effort
Ellen Stofan [Aviation Week & Space Technology 7-15-19]

Leaders such as President John F. Kennedy inspire by pointing out that humans push for exploration not because they are easy, but because they are hard.


Disrupting mainstream politics

[below via Naked Capitalism 7-18-19]

“Democratic leaders like Pelosi, Joe Biden, Steny Hoyer and Chuck Schumer were shaped by their traumatic political coming-of-age during the breakup of the New Deal coalition and the rise of Ronald Reagan,” writes Ryan Grim for The Washington Post, “and the backlash that swept Democrats so thoroughly from power nearly 40 years ago. They’ve spent the rest of their lives flinching at the sight of voters. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world have witnessed the opposite: The way they see it, Democratic attempts to moderate and compromise have led to nothing but ruin.”

Ross Perot Had the Last Laugh

Matt Taibbi [Rolling Stone, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-19]

Early in the 1992 campaign, Perot was leading the three-way race. At one point in June of that year, a Gallup Poll showed him with 39% support, with Bush at 31% and young Bill Clinton at 25%. A Time poll a few days later had him at 37%, with Bush and Clinton both at 24%. These were stunning numbers.

It can’t be an accident that a third-party candidate rose to prominence at precisely the moment when the two parties came together on economic issues, particularly trade.

Perot ran before it became historical fact that both parties supported NAFTA – Bill Clinton hedged a lot in that race, saying things like “on balance it does more good than harm” – but the Texan routinely hammered the theme that the two parties coddled financial interests above ordinary people…. If Perot’s infomercial ratings were a harbinger of future anger toward the “fake news” media, the success of this campaign against NAFTA foretold the anti-globalism movement. Much as Perot in his business life capitalized on inefficiencies he’d spotted in corporate bureaucracies like that of IBM (where he’d worked as a salesman in his youth), he rose in public life because he was early to see cracks in our political foundation that later burst wide open.

Voters Don’t Want Democrats to Be Moderates. Pelosi Should Take the Hint.

[TruthOut, via Naked Capitalism 7-14-19]
Good summary, though nothing really pertains to the title

[below via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

Reminder of what people are calling the “radical, extreme-left agenda”:✅ Medicare for All
✅ A Living Wage & Labor Rights
✅ K-16 schooling, aka Public Colleges
✅ 100% Renewable Energy
✅ Fixing the pipes in Flint
✅ Not Hurting Immigrants
✅ Holding Wall Street Accountable

Nancy Pelosi Emerges As Unexpected Villain At Netroots Nation

[Huffington Post, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

[Caitlin Johnstone, via Naked Capitalism 7-15-19]

“They’re Not Just Mad at AOC — They’re Scared of Her” 

[Jacobin, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

“Mainstream outlets have characterized the conflict as driven by generational tensions, or (on Pelosi’s side) simply a desire to protect Democratic incumbents from criticism. But the feud in fact speaks to something much deeper: Ocasio-Cortez and her allies are pushing for bold, transformational policies that would upend the current economic and political system. That campaign is coming into open conflict with a Democratic establishment that would prefer to just keep things as they are.

“What Americans Do Now Will Define Us Forever”

Adam Serwer [The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

“To attack Omar is to attack a symbol of the demographic change that is eroding white cultural and political hegemony, the defense of which is Trumpism’s only sincere political purpose.”

“Nancy Pelosi Has Lost Control”
[Zach Carter, HuffPo, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]
This is a good timeline of the Pelosi v. AOC fight.

“One of Pelosi’s top lieutenants, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the caucus chair, effectively declared war on Ocasio-Cortez and her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti on Friday night. Nobody in leadership has apologized for it, recanted or publicly rebuked anyone. The tweet is still live. Not since Anthony Weiner’s sexual misconduct scandal in 2011 had the Democratic Party leadership targeted one of its own with such ferocity. Divided over how to oppose Trump and his agenda, party leadership attempted to purge its own ranks, and only eased up when the president himself attacked the same members that leadership had been blasting for weeks….

The divide between Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi represents just about every split in the modern Democratic coalition ― generational, ideological, race, class, strategy, values, all of it. But beneath it all is a simple struggle for power. House Democrats and their agenda [if any] have been hijacked by the corrupt machine politics of New York state…. Ocasio-Cortez represents a greater threat to this machine than Trump, which is why Democratic leadership in Congress is now diverting time, attention and resources to defend the machine’s turf, instead of focusing on the president…. A competent House speaker wouldn’t allow party energy to be squandered this way. But a speaker in firm control also wouldn’t set caucus-wide rules of conduct ― stop criticizing other Democrats on Twitter, say ― only to see them flagrantly violated by the chair of the caucus itself. Nancy Pelosi may look like she’s in charge of the House majority, but the New York machine is running its own show.”

“The Koch Brothers Want to Prevent Future AOCs” 
[GQ, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]

“In a memo obtained by CNBC, Emily Seidel, CEO of the Koch-affiliated political-action committee Americans for Prosperity, announced that the organization would be backing incumbent Democrats against progressive primary challenges in the upcoming congressional primaries.”

System Capture 2020: The Role of the Upper-Class in Shaping Democratic Primary Politics
[CounterPunch, via Mike Norman Economics 7-20-19]

Numerous social scientists, including Benjamin Page, Martin Gilens, Nicholas Carnes, and others have identified how the top 10 percent of American income earners (and white collar professionals more generally) dominate the policy process. Sociologist Rachel Sherman documents how the top one percent of earners construct notions of “hard work” and “worthiness” to justify their extreme wealth in an era of growing inequality.

The Dark Side

“The Epstein case is laying bare America’s morally bankrupt ruling class” 

[The Week, via Naked Capitalism 7-19-19]

“What do they all have in common? (Beside the fact that they are all incredibly rich, I mean.) Alan Dershowitz, David Boies, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump are only a few of the names caught up in the alleged Jeffrey Epstein pedophilia scandal. This isn’t six degrees of Kevin Bacon. These people all know each other well and have for decades. They go to one another’s weddings, ride on the same airplanes, and do business together… Is any living American actually okay with the fact two of our last four presidents were allegedly good pals with the guy whose private airplane was referred to openly in the press as, wink-wink, the “Lolita Express”? … Surveying the decadence of the Trump-Epstein-Boies cabal leaves me with a lot of feelings. One is that we have by far the least glamorous ruling class in the history of the world. Say what you want about the Ancien Régime, but at least they gave us Versailles and Boucher and opéra comique…. It has never been easier to renounce evil and all its works and all its pomps than it is today, when instead of powder-faced bewigged vicomtes tittering in perfectly composed alexandrines in front of rococo mirrors they are goatish hedge fund managers, mercenary lawyers, professional speech-givers, and the founders of fake online colleges suing one another out of boredom.”

[Independent, via Naked Capitalism 7-16-19]


UK Seizes Iranian Tanker, So Iran Seizes UK Tanker


Khameini’s Three Directives for Iran


  1. Bill Hicks

    “Nancy Pelosi Emerges As Unexpected Villain At Netroots Nation.”

    Proof positive that rank and file Democrats are every bit as big a morons as their Rethuglican counterparts. Hey, idiots, Nancy Peolsi has been a “villain” sin the day she first slithered into CONgress. You had 8 years, from 2010-to 2018, to demand she be flushed as the Dumbocratic “leader” of the House. Instead you sat around with your thumbs up your butts until she could prove once again that she’d rather dine on caviar with sociopaths like Bush & Trump (and Obama) than be caught dead with any of you.

  2. bruce wilder

    Thanks for the quotations from and reflections on the Philip Mirowski piece,
    Can the Left Even Understand Why the Right is Winning?

    This one bit struck me: neoliberals themselves have not agreed on any exact definition of “markets” to render political action by the masses so difficult as to be permanently stymied, . . . by the strategic production of ignorance, which renders political understanding inchoate

    I have not read the cited essay yet, but Mirowski is relentless in trying to grasp what neoliberalism is in objective historic documented factual detail and one thing he is very clear about is that neoliberalism has never been one fixed doctrine.

    This is saying something more: which is that neoliberalism uses neoclassical economics as some kind of sticky bait, like a fly trap. “This is how to think about the economy,” they say, “come discuss it.” And, once you’ve accepted the premises of, say, Milton Friedman’s general argument about a “market economy”, you are trapped in that argument with no way out.

    The bits that are genuinely critical to the way neoliberals operate as policy entrepreneurs, coordinating among themselves, are generally not explicit parts of the neoclassical framework anyway and some are formally disproven or unproveable, but it doesn’t matter. An example would be the idea that “labor markets” are improved by reforms to make “labor markets” more “flexible” with fewer protections for wage earners.

    “Labor market” is a Big Lie. It is crazy-making to even talk as if there is such a thing as a “labor market” in an economy which is overwhelmingly organized around employment in bureaucratic hierarchies by do-as-the-boss-says-or-you-are-fired, take-it-or-leave-it contracts. Even the notion that there are “contracts” is a legal fiction almost all the time; legally accurate only because it is the conventional account used by lawyers in their resolution of disputes. But, “labor market” is completely crazy; there is no referent at all, and yet the bastards have us all talking as if there is this thing, called a labor market.

    Of course, it makes us stupid to use a completely false framework and vocabulary.

    What would it take to get people to step away from the neoliberal vocabulary and framework? to reject it altogether as the Big Lie (in Goebbels’ sense) that it is? To talk sensibly about things known to everyone from common experience. To talk about the economics of wage employment as it is.

    And that is just one egregious example. When are we going to stop this nonsensical neoliberal debate between carbon taxes and cap-n-trade? Nothing happens. by design. how stupid are we on the left?

  3. Dan Lynch

    I enjoyed Tony’s summary of Mirowski, but have to call him out on One of the key tenets of American School economists was their explicit and often fierce rejection of the “overpopulation” doctrine of British East India Company apologist Thomas Malthus.

    Tony, there is no known solution to climate change, and even if we could solve it, the great extinction of wildlife that is underway would continue simply because humans are increasingly displacing nature. ALL HUMAN ACTIVITY HAS AN IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT. It always has and it always will.

    I’m not proposing eliminating humans — though Mother Nature may eventually take that matter into her own hands — but the simplest, surest way to reduce our environmental footprint is to have fewer feet.


    Winning in this case is the approach that gets humanity to the finish line of extinction fastest.

    Yes, the rethuglicans’ approach will get us to that ignominious goal & destination faster, but just by a smidgeon versus the dumbocrats’ approach.

    Nothing can be accomplished until we get money and special interests and foreign government meddling & influence out of our politics and governance and I’m afraid the only way that can happen is a violent revolution.


    …but the simplest, surest way to reduce our environmental footprint is to have fewer feet.

    Growth, in general, is the key and that includes population growth. Contraction to steady state is required and that necessarily means decreasing population levels amongst other things.

    This is why the Green New Deal is a farce. It doesn’t address growth and instead treats fighting climate change as a growth opportunity.

    >DJIA 00,000

  6. Stirling S Newberry

    > …but the simplest, surest way to reduce our environmental footprint is to have fewer feet.

    Bzzzt, I’m sorry, that the wrong answer…. what do we have for our contestant?

    Almost half of the worlds CO2 comes from China and USA, not population. Growth is by economic strength, not people. Economics, not Sociology. The world top individual promoters are USA, Canada, Austalia, Saudi Arabia, and Germany. Again, no highest birth rates among them.

    You have The Population Explosion on the brain. The way to shut down CC is by shutting down coal. That means the US, Australia, and China.

  7. VietnamVet

    “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”. The same for the plutocracy. The Reagan/Thatcher counter revolt killed democracy. The consent of the governed vanished. This week’s tanker piracy in the Straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz is the blood on the mat from Nationalists and Globalists (the Deep State) fighting over the spoils. The death and maiming of the little people in a world war is “Nada” (Nothing).

  8. Hugh

    Very long and interesting links.

    Right wing populists, Tea Party, Evangelicals, Trumpists will vote against those who do not support their views come what may. Left wing populists don’t and they end up with Nancy Pelosi. Establishment Democrats like her have had nothing but contempt for progressives since forever. It is kind of ludicrous to invoke a fictive breakup of a “New Deal” coalition as the rationale for this Establishment’s actions. The New Deal coalition broke up back in the 1960s over the Civil Rights Movement when Southern whites abandoned the Democratic party. Pelosi didn’t hit Congress until 1987 twenty years later. Those were the Reagan years, and rather than draw battle lines and stand up for working people and the middle class, they embraced free trade and Wall Street.

    Neoclassical and libertarian economics, the magic of markets, free markets, the hidden hand are all BS meant to give “intellectual” cover to the generalized looting of the rich, elites, and corporations.

    In 1950, China’s population was 552 million. Today it is 1.42 billion. In 1950, the US population was 152 million. Today it is 329 million. To say that these kinds of population increases are irrelevant is to willfully ignore the obvious.

    With regard to coal, “EIA [the US Energy Information Agency] estimates that total 2018 U.S. coal production was 755 million short tons (MMst), 20 MMst less than in 2017 and 36% less than in the previous decade. (

    One of the reasons that China uses so much coal is that the US has exported so much of its manufacturing there. But it is important to remember that coal isn’t used just for power generation. It is a principal source of energy to fire kilns in the manufacture of cement. It is kind of a no-brainer that the largest industrialized countries under the current regime of fossil fuel use are also the largest producers of greenhouse gases.

    And of course, it isn’t just about greenhouse gases. If you look at 1950, current, and 2050 projected population estimates around the world, if you look at the depletion of water supplies, the strains on agriculture and on political and civic structures around the world, it becomes clearer and clearer that there are simply too many of us. We have not yet hit the resources wall, but we are extremely close to doing so. We can still manage our populations down humanely and reasonably to sustainable levels, but we need to act now. We don’t, and nature does it for us impartially and without mercy.

    In one way, the intellectual fervor that Tony’s links represent is a good thing. Some of us have been writing on this stuff for years, and it is really encouraging to see so many of the ideas and debates getting the increased play and attention they are.

  9. Salty

    I like Wikrent’s links and have been following his blog for a while now, but why does he keep conflating the left with the Democrats? Why does everyone keep doing this?

    When you [Tony] state things like “the left does X” and don’t specify who the left are, all I do is just go “Huh?”. I’m a leftist and I know full well the neoliberals don’t actually care about laissez faire. The circles I run with talk about the contradictions of capitalism all the time. Who is “the left”?

    But we get an answer shortly after. He worked with a group of radicals within the Democrats who refused to name names. The Democrats aren’t leftists, even their more left-wing members are still pretty conservative. There are no socialists in their elected ranks (even Bernie is a social-democracy type, he doesn’t want to end capitalism) so conflating the Democrats and the left is just confusing.

    For full disclosure, a leftist is someone who wants to end capitalism. If you’re not going to end capitalism but want to be nice to minorities or have social programs, you’re a liberal. See? Defined my terms. Easy.

  10. Refreshing … to find the words taint, and disparage, in the same sentence as conspiracy theories. Quite possibly the most successful tool in the box to shut down an unwanted or uncomfortable conversation is to disparage it, to taint it, as “conspiracy theory.”

    I’m with ya’ Salty. I’m a lefty, don’t call me a damned liberal.

    My only interest is my grandchildrens’ survival.

  11. Hugh

    Socialism when it came into being in the nineteenth century was about the empowerment of working class males by giving them the vote and the consequences that flowed from this. The conception of those consequences was pretty narrow as demonstrated by the failure to extend the franchise to women.

    Whatever we have now isn’t capitalism. It’s kleptocracy. I am pretty neutral on capitalism as a concept and markets. I have no problem on giving scope to individual action and initiative as long as it fulfills some social good, and as long as the basics are taken care of for everyone I’m pretty broadminded about what a social good might be.

    Liberalism and neoliberalism both hearken back to Wilsonian liberalism which was pro-corporation, pro-interventionist internationally, paternalistic, elitist, and rabidly anti-populist. If you note, this description covers both modern liberals and “conservatives.” Libertarians at least in their rhetoric come closest to traditional conservatism. This was concerned with small government, states rights and was isolationist and nativist/racist.

    Progressivism is something of an ad hoc label for those on the left who are anti-elitist, anti-paternalistic, anti-corporation, anti or less interventionist, and believe in working for the good of the many, not the few. Liberals tend to identify more with the Democratic party. Progressives less so even though some like Sanders and AOC do act with and/or in the party.


    Bzzzt, I’m sorry, that the wrong answer…. what do we have for our contestant?

    A pubescent young girl from Epstein’s List?

    When is Spielberg going to make the sequel to Schindler’s List, Epstein’s List? Come on, Steven, fair is fair, right? Never Again should equally apply to pubescent shiksas, right Steven?

    Where are Erik Prince and all his brave, noble mercenary warriors when you need them? Surely there’s nothing more noble and chivalrous and virtuous than protecting the dignity of the shiksas, right Erik & Co.? What a bunch of cowards. A fair fight is knocking at their door and instead of taking it, they side with the mass-murdering rapists. That’s this world, but it doesn’t have to be the next. That’s why on our way to the next world, Erik and his kind must be brought to justice. All the enablers must be brought to justice because there can be no progress without justice. Castro understood that.


    But it is important to remember that coal isn’t used just for power generation.

    That’s right. The most important reason to continue burning coal is the Aerosol Masking Effect. Without it, we’re toast and even with it we will ultimately be toast too — it’s merely a deferral mechanism at this point so the wealthy elite can finish completion of their survival plans to include the construction of underground homes and villages sprinkled about the planet in proximity to large, untapped fresh water aquifers. Epstein will provide the girls as the planet burns above.


    Hey Spielberg, if you’re having trouble getting started on the sequel, this should help.

    If nothing else, Epstein was bipartisan. Political ideology didn’t hold him back. His motto, and the motto of those on his list, was and is, if they’re old enough to bleed, they’re old enough to breed. Ask Steven Pinker & Martin Nowak, they’ll tell you. It’s a tried & true formula every bit as much as E = mc^2.

    The only question I have is, how many Epsteins are there? Whack this one and ten or more, like the moles they are, will take his place who have been operating concomitantly.

    Epstein’s List

    We know, of course, because the shadow of Clinton’s sexual history and his associations with other men who have terrible legacies of sexually inappropriate-to-criminal behavior have for decades hung like a greasy and unscrubbable film over the Democratic Party he once led. Clinton palled around not just with Epstein but with Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein and Trump himself.

    They hung out together and flew together and went to each other’s offices and visited each other’s homes and appeared on each other’s TV shows and had each other’s phone numbers and attended each other’s weddings and created a circle of money and protection. The prosecutorial and defensive math — the haggling over flights and phone numbers — is just used to complicate this basic reality.

    Those on the left have been going over how we’re supposed to feel about him for decades, but in the arguing about it, we have been asked to focus again and again on Clinton and his dick and what he did or didn’t do with it. The questions we’ve asked ourselves and one another have become defining.

    Are we morally compromised in our defense of him or sexually uptight in our condemnation? Are we shills for having not believed he should have resigned, or doing the bidding of a vindictive right wing if we say that, in retrospect, he probably should have?

    Meanwhile, how much energy and time have been spent circling round this man and how we’ve felt about him, when in fact his behaviors were symptomatic of far broader and more damaging assumptions about men, power, and access to — as Trump has so memorably voiced it — pussies?

  15. Ché Pasa

    Salty is very correct about the confusion caused by the insidious conflation of Democrats and “the left.”

    The left of my acquaintance understands very well why the rightists have been winning so much for so long and why they tend more and more toward fascism. It’s no mystery at all. Nor is neoliberalism anything but transparent. The Democratic Party is deeply complicit in the rightist and neoliberal take over and continued control of government in the United States, just as many crypto-socialist parties are elsewhere. But the Democrats have never been socialists, have never been “leftists.”

    They are functionally a conservative political party and always have been, even during their periodic populist forays.

    Confusing Democrats with “the left” is jejune at a minimum, a deliberate falsehood more often than not, just as the current Republican talking point about “The Squad” being communists is a deliberate falsehood. Any time a commentator conflates Democrats with “the left” I discount their argument — which may otherwise be interesting or have merit — because of their obvious lack of either honesty or basic political understanding.

    As for the question of overpopulation, I’ve made the point numerous times: I’ve been hearing the complaint of “overpopulation” since I was a wee lad at my mother’s knee shortly after WWII when dog-knows how many tens of millions had just been slaughtered, and many more millions were about to be, slaughter that continues to this day in one unfortunate part of the world or another. No matter, “there are just too many people” is a trope in constant use, has been since long before I was born. Fact is, there are always “too many people” for some people’s comfort and there always will be.

    There is no humane way for Western people to manage other people’s population growth or decline, but that is nearly always what correcting overpopulation means. “We” are supposed to manage “their” populations, and that means the majority of “them” must be eliminated one way or another. It has ever been thus among those who decry overpopulation, though it seems like many today are either unconscious or oblivious to it.

    It’s been a consistent impetus behind so many genocidal horrors over the centuries, and it looks very much like we’re about to plunge into a global genocidal period again. The impetus and justification will of course be the increasingly dire climate emergency which we cannot escape. The very emergency which has long been denied or minimized by the very people who might have done something to substantially mitigate it decades ago. Now they’ve embraced it fully as a good thing. They are convinced they won’t suffer more than a little bit while the rest of us, especially the poor devils in Africa, India, China, and wherever else the teeming masses are collected, perish in their multitudes.

    As they must. Always.

  16. Hugh

    The same kinds of arguments people use to minimize and dismiss overpopulation other people use to deny climate change. People have been saying X for years, but we’re still here. It would be immoral/neocolonialist to even try. Developed countries would be telling developing ones what to do.

    I would invite again everyone to go and look at the data on population in 1950, now, and in 2050, keeping in mind the related global warming, environmental destruction, exhaustion of water supplies, current mass extinction, and proliferation of failed and failing states. Is it better to make information available and be accused of “genocide” or do nothing and ensure a self-inflicted one will occur in developing countries? And it is not exactly like developed countries can or should just wash their hands of the matter. What happens when 50-100 million people in Africa and the Middle East start heading for Europe? What do Europeans do? I think discussing these issues is important because there is a real lack of understanding of the enormity of what’s coming and indeed is already arriving.

  17. Anthony K Wikrent

    Salty – your point is well taken. But “left” is too easy a handle to use, especially when writing quickly, as for a blog. And, of course, the interesting thing is that your complaint also extends to Mirowski, who is certainly no slouch when it comes to political taxonomy.

    Upon reflection, I have to confess I use the “left” very loosely to denote all those who are not conservatives. However, while Rush Limbaugh would include Hillary Clinton as “the left” I think of her as a corporatist, conservative on economic issues, but left or liberal on social issues.

    There have been a handful of excellent articles I’ve read over the past decade or two, by authors arguing the right-left taxonomy is inaccurate and inadequate. But by far the best was not actually an attack on the right-left taxonomy. It was by Stirling Newberry, and I spent a few minutes trying to find it, without success. I think the title was “Three Polar Politics” and it was one of Newberry’s masterpieces. Perhaps as far back as 15 years ago. I’m chagrined I can’t find it, but I hope someone can. I remember Newberry explaining why Sarah Palin was actually a conservative (or something; maybe it was Confederate) socialist, based on her promotion of and enthusiasm fir government handouts to the middle class .

    I wrote something at the time, urging Newberry to further refine his three poles by incorporating Thorstein Veblen’s distinction between producer class and predator (leisure) class.

    As for the Democratic Party: I don’t know why Ian does it, but he always removes my note at the top that this wrap-up is done as part of the Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party. It’s his blog, and he can do what he wants, and I’m grateful just to be allowed to post here. Anyway, the point I want to make is that I am active in the Democratic Party, and there clearly is a leftist insurgency that is small but vocal, and it really annoys the establishment hacks. Within the ranks of the Progressive Caucus are a number of DSA members, and in fact, my county caucus has been actively recruiting DSA members to not only attend our meetings, and to serve as precinct officers in the county Democratic Party, but to also serve on our county caucus executive team. We have two so far.

    So, yeah, a simple left-right spectrum is not conducive to high level political analysis and probably hinders understanding. What to do? I dunno. Perhaps post a statement of my own political taxonomy and link to it every time I write something? I don’t think that will prevent me from falling into the trap of using the left-right labels simply because they’re so damn convenient.

  18. Ian Welsh

    Just adds verbiage. I do leave it in sometimes, but only when I forget. Same as I change the date from Saturday to Sunday.

  19. Anthony K Wikrent

    Do we know what is required to stop climate change? As Stirling points out, it is not people, but the technology of burning coal (and I would add other fossil fuels). Do technologies exist alternative to burning coal and other fossil fuels?

    Yes, or no?

    So, the obvious answer is yes. Next question: do we have the physical and technological means to replace all the facilities currently burning fossil fuels?

    Yes, we do. People not familiar with this issue should take a look at the work of Mark Z. Jacobson, at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, and Mark A. Delucchi, at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California at Davis, who have detailed what is required including discussion of critical material shortages, such as rare earth elements, for a mass, crash program.

    The question that we should be asking, then, is why are we not shutting down coal- and gas-fired power plants and replacing them with renewables as quickly as possible? Can it be done in 20 years? Without question. Using the aggregate cost number from Jacobson and Delucchi, I calculated that doing so requires about a nine percent increase in world economic output each year. That is a mere fraction of increase in output in both USA and USSR during the World War Two mobilization. And USSR’s industrial plant was being destroyed or carried off by the Nazis at the same time.

    Now, what about transport? Is there an alternative to vehicles that burn fossil fuel?

    Yes, or no?

    Who hasn’t heard about Tesla and electric cars by now? Now, here we do find a hard resource limit: lithium. Scientists and engineers are reportedly very close to final development of high-capacity sodium-ion as an alternative to lithium. I don’t know how much money is being devoted to this effort (it appears to be in Japan), but I think a reasonable guess is a couple hundred million dollars at most. The world’s foreign exchange markets trade over $5 trillion EVERY DAY. So, let’s say we tax one tenth of one percent of that forex, giving us $5 billion for one day. Just take that one day tax on foreign exchange markets and devote it entirely to the search for a replacement to lithium. How many more scientists and engineers would be devoted to the problem? How much more human creativity? Pour $5 billion into this one example of specific research, and how soon do you think we would see results?

    This is why American School economists were quite livid in their denunciation of British imperial economics, which blamed the misery of Ireland, India, and other places on “over population.” Honestly, once you read these tirades from the 19th century, you will never again be able to think the same way about the argument that there are too many people. The real issue here is the misallocation and misuse of financial flows and monetary systems. Why do people who argue the world is overpopulated never discuss at the same time the enormous travesty of so much money and credit going to speculation, arbitrage and usury, instead of research into solving the environmental problems we face? I will take the argument much more seriously if and when we have shut down most of Wall Street and the City of London, and increase funding for scientific research a hundred fold. As leading American School economist Henry Carey wrote in 1851 about the genocidal effects of British economic policies for its colonies: “Over-population is the ready excuse for all the evils of a vicious system, and so will it continue to be until that system shall see its end…” That was in EIGHTEEN fifty one. So this is not really a new debate.

    I have a lot more to add, but I think It requires some searching for links, and probably deserves a separate post. But I felt the excellent discussion here also deserved a response.

    Two last things. On the actual carrying capacity of planet Earth, I found this from UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS): a survey of 65 different estimates of carrying capacity.

    ” the greatest concentration of
    estimates falls between 8 and 16 billion people ”

    The second thing is something that I also find people who expound on overpopulation never mention: the demographic transition that occurs as a country industrializes.

    Look at the birth rate for South Korea, 1960 to 2016, here:…0.0..0.96.537.7……0….1..gws-wiz…….0i71j0i67j0i20i263j0i131.QvP-3dCs3wg

    Or just google “birth rate South Korea.” The birth rate fell below replacement level of 2.0 per woman in 1984, and has since fallen even more to 1.17 in 2016, causing alarm that the population of that country is shrinking.

    This is the “demographic transition” which occurs as countries become more developed. It has occurred in every country that has successfully developed, and is now the cause for concern that the population of those countries – Japan, USA, Italy, Germany, Austria, Russia, Canada, Australia – is shrinking, except for immigration. This demographic transition is the basis for projections that the world’s population is going to stabilize at ten billion people within the next couple decades.
    GRAPH strong connection between poverty and fertility

    I use the example of South Korea specifically because South Korea is the most recent clear example of industrialization – and the policies used were those of the American School of political economy. James Fellow got quite a few professional economists upset when he wrote about it in The Atlantic back in the 1990s. More recently, South Korean economist Ha-Joon Chang has written about it:
    Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

    Now look at the birth rate of Nigeria, the country that was the focus of discussion in comments to Ian’s posting last week. Think of what might have been, if Truman and Eisenhower had followed Franklin Roosevelt’s policies of opposing the reimposition of European colonial rule, and instead assisting countries to develop economically. What if Nigeria, for example, had reached the demographic transition around the same time South Korea did? What if the Army Corps of Engineers, like FDR told Churchill he wanted to do, had actually been deployed to Nigeria in 1947 or 1948, and assisted in building highways, rail lines, mass transit systems, schools, universities, dams, and all the other markers of modernity? What if Nigeria had developed, and undergone the demographic transition, and its population had stabilized at around 75 million in the late 1970s?

  20. Willy

    I wondered how Tony did it. Apparently he can write a lot really fast. With links.

    While face to face clarification can be done almost instantaneously, typed semantics can be a bitch. Should there be a glossary to memeitize? Should more descriptive terms be used to describe groups? While “low information conservative” seems redundant, “Mises libertarian” is clear enough. Then there’s small government centrists and smart government moderates, which can be different things. Corporate centrists, populist moderates? Anything’s more descriptive than just left, centrist or right.

  21. Salty

    If you do manage to dig up that article I’d love to read it. Perhaps put it in the next roundup when you do find it.

    I usually go with the scientific means of defining things. If something fits the definition, it is, and if it doesn’t, it is not. Then all we need is a common set of definitions and our words mean something.
    Unfortunately, finding that common set of definitions is really hard when most people (understandably) don’t have much time for politics. When I talk to people at work about current issues (I’m a service worker) most of them don’t know much, but they also work two jobs and have a family.

    So I find I spend a lot of time settling terms. Once you set the terms it’s actually pretty easy to figure out who is what, and why they are fighting.

  22. Hugh

    Re the UN report: “While there is an incredible range to the estimates of Earth’s carrying capacity, the greatest concentration of estimates falls between 8 and 16 billion people.” However, as the report notes almost all the studies base their estimates using only a single parameter. There is a longer discussion of the Stockholm Resilience Centre which uses more parameters, but as far as I can see no estimate. Also nothing on the methodologies and biases of the studies from which estimates were drawn.

    Re South Korea, according to the Census International Database, in 2050, it will have a population of 47.731 million about what it was in 2005: 47.988 million, but still 2.29 times what it was in 1950 (20.846 million). My rule of thumb is look at the 1950 numbers for some idea of what is a sustainable figure. Why? because in 1950, the planet had an industrial base (unequally distributed) but with moderate impact on the environment. South Korea is a special case. At the same time, Nigeria reflects much of what is happening in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. In 2050, Nigeria will have a population of nearly 417 million. That is 8.7 times the population of South Korea but without its industrial base. It will be the third most populous country in the world. And in 1950? Nigeria had a population of 31.797 million or one and a half times that of South Korea at the time. This idea that population transitions happen or that they can happen in a time frame and to a degree before things fall apart is, to put it mildly, wishful thinking.

    We know human-driven climate change is an existential threat. We know that we are in the midst of a human-driven mass extinction event. We know that too many demands are being made on aquifers and watersheds. And we see the proliferation of failed and failing states and the weakening of civic institutions and societies around the globe. But somehow population is supposed to be irrelevant or a footnote to all this. Incredible as in not credible.

    It is like we are passengers on the Titanic. We can see the water rushing in. We can feel the ship tilting, but then we are shown a bunch of graphs and reports that show that the ship should reach port in less than two weeks if certain actions are taken in the next two to three days. The only problem with this being that the ship will be on the bottom of the ocean in ten hours.


    Note how Anthony ignores the root of climate change which is growth and focuses instead on the blame for climate change being placed on over-population which is part & parcel of growth but not the root reason for climate change. In this sense, over-population is a strawman. It’s part of the problem, a symptom thereof, but it’s not the root of the problem.

    Tesla and renewables is attempting to “solve” climate change via growth and it’s being sold this way. Anthony provided a link not too long ago dispelling the myth that AOC and the Green New Dealers were calling for a moratorium on air travel and the article articulated that the opposite was true, that air travel would grow because new clean technologies would ameliorate the negative environmental impacts.

  24. Anthony K Wikrent

    Stirling Newberry, Three Polar Politics In Post-Petroleum America.
    The old link to the original 2006 post on Corrente is dead, so here is one that works.

    And here part of a comment I wrote about Newberry’s three polar schema in March 2016 (and comically enough, it’s in a post by Ian where Ian uses the left-right shortcut).

    “In 2009, Stirling Newberry posted what I consider one of his classics: , Three Polar Politics In Post-Petroleum America. Newberry explains that there are three loci in American politics today: Progressive, Moderate, and Confederate. It appears to have been reposted twice by Lambert at CorrenteWire, most recently in November 2013, and teh exact original date in 2009 is lost to me.

    “I think Newberry’s “tri-polar” schema is far more accurate than a left-right bi-polar schema, but I also believe that Newberry’s three poles can be further refined by applying Thorstein Veblen’s bi-polar schema of Producers versus Leisure Class, or, in the terminology I prefer, Producers versus [economic and financial] Predators. There are, for example, many Confederates and Moderates and even Progressives who are entirely in thrall to the financial markets and the FIRE sector in general. As Newberry once put it: there are many people who have never known any other way of making a living than dipping a cup into the Niagara of financial flows. particularly noteworthy, there are also many Confederates and Moderates who are solidly based in the productive half of Veblen’s schema, such as people in agriculture, forestry, and especially the oil and gas industry. What I think is particularly important to understand at this point in history is what Veblen called pecuniary culture, which I think would give us a broad, general foundation on which to apply Veblen’s schema to Newberry’s.”

  25. Ian Welsh

    Also, I’m glad to see this has taken off and that people are talking about Tony’s articles. The work that goes into this is boggling, which, frankly, is why I never did it despite thinking something like it would be a good idea.

  26. Ché Pasa

    My criticism of the dishonest or lazy use of ‘left’ to refer to the Democratic Party and Democrats in general is primarily directed at Mirowski et al with regard to this post and some of the media (including internet media) beyond that. By and large, Democrats are not ‘leftists’ and their policies and programs — to the extent they exist — are not ‘leftist’ or socialist or (for dog’s sake) communist. They are for the most part conservative, fostering a status quo or even a status quo ante and a return to stability.

    To the extent they seek change, it is on behalf of a faction of the elite while mollifying the masses with words rather than actions. Those on the left understand quite well why Democrats tend to lose and tend to fritter away their power and authority when they occasionally win. It is their very tendency toward serving an elite constituency, conservatism and preserving or returning to a status quo against the radical upheaval and chaos that’s long characterised the Rs that does them in. Our times require sometimes radical propositions and solutions, and Dems do not — indeed seem constitutionally unable to — provide them or even suggest them. That does not mean that the Rs’ radicalism serves the People; it doesn’t. 

    Instead, Dems dote on their high dollar funders’ interests in opposition to those of lower status, they routinely punch to their powerless left rather than serve as a muscular opposition to the increasingly rightist/fascist Rs, they complexify and mystify practically everything, and they exhaust both the public and their authority with dithering, toothless objections (the infamous “sternly worded letters”) and furious nonsense (eg: “Russia!” as opposed to election integrity and guaranteeing voter access).

    It’s pathetic, and we’re going through the same things in the Democratic controlled House where the Old (Very Old) Guard is determined to repeat the same errors of the past.

    As for the issue of overpopulation has been kicked around for too many years to count, and has generally been used as a cudgel with which to bludgeon the unfortunate “others” whose herd always needs culling, Tony explains as clearly as he can that “overpopulation” has long been used to dispose of poor devils (like the Irish, the Indians both East and West), the Chinese) who are in the way of the progress of Anglo-American and other Western empires.

    But Hugh has asked a pertinent question: Given this deplorable history, does that mean we shouldn’t address the issue of overpopulation at all, ever?

    I think Tony provides a reasonable response: the issue is not so much one of “too many people” as it is a misallocation of resources. When too few people have too much while too many people have too little and are prevented from obtaining basic resources (be it food, water, decent shelter, etc) for a decent life, the perception of overpopulation that must be reduced is enhanced. The actual global carrying capacity may be quite a bit higher than now — even with the vagaries of climate — but so long as a few hog and hoard resources for themselves and deny them to the masses, we’ll see plenty of problems that are labeled ‘overpopulation’ just as we’ve seen for hundreds of years.

    (As a side note, I left California when the population reached nearly 38 million, too many in my opinion for a decent quality of life. That doesn’t mean that California is “overpopulated” in an objective sense. In fact, most of the state is free of people and could probably accommodate many more. But that’s not how and where I want to live. Perception is the key to understanding this issue.) 

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