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

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

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy

Orwell Was Right (excerpt)

Matt Taibbi [TK News, via Naked Capitalism 3-14-2022]

The ideal citizen of Orwell’s Oceania bubbled with rage a mile wide and a millimeter deep and could forget in an instant passions that may have consumed him or her for years. We just did this, with a pandemic that had the country steaming with indignation until it was quietly declared over the moment Putin rolled over Ukraine’s borders. We switched from “the pandemic of the unvaccinated” to “Putin’s price hikes” in a snap. National outrage moved a few lobes over with zero fuss, and now we hate new people; instead of “anti-vax Barbie,” we’re barring Russian and Belarussian kids from the Paralympics.

“At least NINE House Democrats test positive for COVID after party held maskless retreat in Philadelphia”

[Daily Mail, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-18-2022]

I include this under “Strategic Political Economy” because it illustrates the extreme arrogance and stupidity of USA ruling elites — including Democratic Party elites. The have failed completely to confront an epidemic by refusing to even consider major expenditures such as reworking the ventilation systems and air filters of all buildings. As Lambert Strether noted: “Closed, close-contact, crowded, lots of talking, probably shouting and singing, no masks. What did they think was going to happen? The outcome they all worked so hard to create; that’s what happened.” 

Say hello to Russian gold and Chinese petroyuan 

Pepe Escaobar [Vineyard of the Saker, via Mike Norman Economics 3-15-2022]

It was a long time coming, but finally some key lineaments of the multipolar world’s new foundations are being revealed.

On Friday, after a videoconference meeting, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and China agreed to design the mechanism for an independent international monetary and financial system. The EAEU consists of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia, is establishing free trade deals with other Eurasian nations, and is progressively interconnecting with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

For all practical purposes, the idea comes from Sergei Glazyev, Russia’s foremost independent economist, a former adviser to President Vladimir Putin and the Minister for Integration and Macroeconomics of the Eurasia Economic Commission, the regulatory body of the EAEU.

“Saudi Arabia Considers Accepting Yuan Instead of Dollars for Chinese Oil Sales”

[Wall Street Journal, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-15-2022]

“Saudi Arabia is in active talks with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in yuan, people familiar with the matter said, a move that would dent the U.S. dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market and mark another shift by the world’s top crude exporter toward Asia…. China buys more than 25% of the oil that Saudi Arabia exports. If priced in yuan, those sales would boost the standing of China’s currency. The Saudis are also considering including yuan-denominated futures contracts, known as the petroyuan, in the pricing model of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. , known as Aramco.” • Since the dollar is now evidently a pure form of power projection by the United States, it’s not surprising that other sovereign states would want to get out from under it, if they can.

Dollar’s End

Godfree Roberts [The Unz Review, via Mike Norman Economics 3-16-2022]

Godfree Roberts reflects conventional thinking about this. But from the MMT pov, having the dominant reserve currency is a liability more than an asset, since the country with a dominant reserve currency has to provide enough savings for the rest of the world to settle international accounts. This means that the country with the dominant reserve currency needs to run current account deficits, which the US does spectacularly, supposedly weakening the dollar by cheapening it and undermining its value as a “safe asset.”
The conventional thinking having the world’s dominant reserve currency is a “privilege” aka “exorbitant privilege.” This is as a good thing. But the conventional thinking also regards a large current account deficit as a bad thing, since it “devalues” the currency. This is also viewed as an aspect of “privilege” by forcing others to “pay” for extravagance since they need to settle in the reserve currency and therefore must hold it.
The reality is that the county with the dominant global currency does hold an advantage if it wishes to use it to deny use of the currency in settlement to countries it wants to pressure or exclude. But this result in damaging the status of the reserve currency as a safe asset for everyone that saves in it. Similarly, currency instability (inflation, devaluation) will under cut willingness to save in the currency.

US to build anti-China missile network along first island chain 

[Nikkei, via Naked Capitalism 3-19-2022]

Professional management class clowns

The Superpower Of Admitting the Obvious 

Ian Welsh, March 15, 2022

It really is weird to have the “superpower” of being able to see the obvious.

Obviously, Iraq did not have WMD. Obviously, neither the Iraq nor Afghan occupations would succeed.

Obviously, letting Covid rip will cause a mass disabling event which will severely damage our societies.

Obviously China does not regard the US, in specific as a friend, as for 12 years the US has publicly stated, over and over again, that China is Enemy #1….

Obviously, offshoring our industrial base to China would make them stronger and us weaker….

Obviously, bailing out the rich in 2008 led to a sclerotic economy which cannot fix problems because central banks made a rule that incompetent rich people will be allowed to stay incompetent.

Obviously, not charging rich people with the crimes they committed which caused the financial crisis, but hitting them with fines which cost less than what they made would make them commit more and more crimes.

Obviously, if the rich control government (as per the Princeton Oligarchy study and common sense), and if Covid makes them much richer faster, the government will not seriously try to control Covid.

Disrupting mainstream economics

Bad Economics: How microeconomic reasoning took over the very institutions of American governance

[Boston Review, via The Big Picture 3-19-2022]

Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy
Elizabeth Popp Berman
Princeton University Press, $35 (cloth)

Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be
Diane Coyle
Princeton University Press, $24.95 (cloth)

What’s Wrong with Economics? A Primer for the Perplexed
Robert Skidelsky
Yale University Press, $25 (cloth)

….Given the outsize influence of economic thinking in modern life, it is odd that these microeconomic foundations have largely escaped public scrutiny. Three recent books help set the record straight. Each freely courts Samuelson’s scorn, showing how microeconomic methodology structures not only the theory and practice of economics, but the very institutions of American governance. In the face of the concatenating disasters of the present, economics will have to be remade, these authors suggest—from the inside and out.

For an accessible overview, historian Robert Skidelsky’s What’s Wrong with Economics? A Primer for the Perplexed is the best place to start…. Skidelsky’s targets can be grouped into three main features of contemporary economic thinking: its intense mathematization, its caricatured portrait of human psychology, and its isolation from the other social sciences…. One of the crowning achievements of this axiomatic approach is the modern theory of general equilibrium developed by Kenneth Arrow, Gérard Debreu, and Lionel McKenzie in the 1950s, which demonstrates how a market economy, under ideal conditions, achieves the perfect allocation of resources.

[TW: I have to interject here — the proper political economy of a republic focuses on increasing humanity’s power over nature, to provide the physical, mental, cultural, and psychological goods and services required for a continual improvement of the human condition. More important than an “allocation of resources” is the development of new scientific and technological knowledge to overcome resources scarcities, by finding new resources (including the ability to use resources previously not known, or not fit for use), and extending the scope of use of already known resources (including recycling and less wasteful use). Merely focusing on the allocation of resources”  will drive society straight into the resource constraints described by Jared Diamond in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.]

….As economist Frank Knight once put it, equilibrium can be deduced only under assumptions so “heroic” that they bear little resemblance to reality at all. Yet when real world conditions depart from these assumptions, many economists act as though it’s the world that’s to blame, not the model. For them, the point is that markets ought largely to be left alone, or even created in domains where they do not already exist, so as to bring the world more in line with the model rather than the model more in line with the world….

What’s more, to the extent that robust empirical findings have emerged in recent decades, the results are often at odds with the predictions of microeconomic theory. The minimum wage is a case in point. Abstract equilibrium models predict that higher minimums increase unemployment. When empirical work began questioning this presumption, the outrage from some economists was severe. “The inverse relationship between quantity demanded and price is the core proposition in economic science,” Nobel laureate James Buchanan thundered in the Wall Street Journal in 1996: “Just as no physicist would claim that ‘water runs uphill,’ no self-respecting economist would claim that increases in the minimum wage increase employment.” Yet in the decades since, empirical research has consistently failed to find evidence for this supposedly self-evident relationship….

But in a world where microeconomic models are now being coded into the algorithms that govern more and more of our social and economic life, just how likely is it that these virtues are forthcoming? On this point, British economist Diane Coyle’s Cogs and Monsters: What Economics Is, and What It Should Be offers a more realistic assessment….

Though Skidelsky and Coyle offer penetrating reflections on economic theory and practice, neither has much to say about their institutional power. For this, sociologist Elizabeth Popp Berman’s Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in U.S. Public Policy is indispensable. Deeply researched and powerfully argued, it is easily one of the most important studies of American governance in many years.

The book gives a counter-history of neoliberalism of sorts, though Berman rarely uses the term. The conventional origin story focuses on a small cadre of right-wing intellectuals who convened at Mont Pèlerin in Switzerland in 1947 in opposition to the burgeoning postwar welfare state, and rode a wave of donor-backed PR efforts to government positions under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. More recent studies have expanded the frame, from Central Europe (in the post-imperial turmoil after World War I from which several key neoliberals emerged) to the Global South (where a wave of nations reconfigured market-state relations in the wake of debt crises in the late 1970s). Yet with a few notable exceptions, this work still focuses mostly on the right and mostly on intellectuals. Berman takes a different tack on both fronts. Her starting point is the dominant form of policymaking in the United States today—embraced by technocrats in both major parties—and her object of study is not an intellectual body of work but a particular “style of reasoning” that pervades the institutions of modern government, one that prizes “efficiency” above all else…. Above all, the economic style exhibits “a deep appreciation of markets as efficient allocators of resources,” so much so that it takes efficiency to be the primary metric of good policy….

How and when did this style emerge? Berman traces the key juncture to the 1960s, decades before the heyday of neoliberalism under Reagan. It was during this period that two groups of economists—whiz-kid systems analysts from the RAND Corporation on the one hand, industrial economists from the elite academy on the other—entered the state apparatus, spread their ideas, trained many others, and gradually but inexorably altered the fundamental mechanisms of American governance. Far from an alien ideology hatched by right-leaning intellectuals and imposed from the outside, then, the economic style was born in the heart of the midcentury liberal democratic state….

It would be hard to overstate the impact this new regime had on every aspect of American governance. Systematically and persuasively, Berman documents how it touched nearly every major policy area of the late 1960s and ’70s. The effect was to dismantle the expansive social philosophy reflected in the landmark Great Society legislation passed in 1964 and 1965—in health care, housing, civil rights, education, and poverty—and replace it with a narrow economic logic that prized efficiency above all. As Berman slyly observes, there had been no “scoring” of the 1965 Medicare bill by the CBO: the office did not yet exist….

The institutional hegemony of the economic style endures to this day. The effects have been profound. It was Democrats’ institutionalization of the economic style—“through legal frameworks, administrative rules, and organizational change”—that cemented the rightward shift of the party, Berman concludes, hamstringing its ability to make significant policy in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. In fact, as Berman details in a chapter on the Reagan administration, conservatives were far more opportunistic wielders of the economic style than liberals, embracing its analysis when it aligned with preexisting values (say, on deregulation) but sidelining it in areas where it did not (welfare and the environment). As with so many other dynamics in American politics, this strategic asymmetry pushed the outcome ever further rightward. Drawn together, Berman’s story offers a damning political moral: the liberal dream of rational governance produced monsters of its own.

Modern Capitalism Is Weirder Than You Think It Is 

[New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 3-17-2022]

In the 21st century, however, pension funds have been superseded by a new breed of shareholder, the asset manager. Whereas pension funds pool the retirement savings of households, asset managers pool the holdings of pension funds, insurers, sovereign wealth funds, and myriad other investors. In other words, they’re huge.

The three largest asset managers — BlackRock, Vanguard Group, and State Street — collectively own about 22 percent of the average S&P 500 company, up from 13.5 percent in 2008….

And the oddity of the ascendant order doesn’t stop there. Making matters even weirder, contemporary capitalism’s dominant shareholders have no direct interest in the success or failure of the firms they own. All returns on their holdings get passed down the investment chain to their clients — households, governments, and corporations. Asset managers make their money off of their clients’ fees, not their firms’ returns….

And yet this does not necessarily mean asset-manager capitalism has been bad for consumers. A subsequent study from one of the same researchers found that, on net, the rise of BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street has actually reduced prices across the economy. This makes theoretical sense. If an entity owns every firm within a single industry — and none outside it — then it is in their interest to promote collusion and price gouging. But if an entity owns every firm in every industry, the calculus changes: High prices in the airline industry reduce the profit margins of every corporation that needs to pay for business travel. The airline tycoon has an interest in collusion, but the universal owner has an interest in efficiency.

As Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project observes, the fact that asset-manager capitalism has proved compatible with low prices and market competition serves as a proof of concept for market socialism. Historically, the most biting criticism of socialism’s viability has been the incapacity of central planners to rationally allocate society’s productive resources….

As Bruenig writes, “Index funds are basically an extremely unequal version” of this proposition. Today, Vanguard owns virtually the entire corporate sector and inequitably distributes the wealth it generates to its predominantly rich clientele. Under socialism, the Revolutionary Vanguard™ will own the entire economy and distribute its proceeds to each according to need….

In early 2020, BlackRock and myriad other asset managers called on drug companies to collaborate on vaccine development. In doing so, these financial Goliaths were not merely seeking favorable publicity; they were also pursuing their own pecuniary interests. As universal owners, they had little stake in whether Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson dominated the vaccine market. Nor did they have much investment in either company maximizing their profits from vaccine sales. The top three asset managers may have owned roughly 20 percent of Pfizer, but Pfizer still accounted for a tiny fraction of their holdings. And virtually everything else in their portfolios stood to increase in value as soon as shots went into arms. Thus, in the age of asset-manager capitalism, it was in the financial interest of Pfizer’s largest shareholders for the firm to put public health above private profit.

In theory, a similar logic applies to the climate crisis. Given the deleterious economic effects of unchecked warming, maximizing long-term asset values requires a green transition. And since Exxon’s largest shareholders are asset managers — who have more to gain from high asset prices than high Exxon profits — a green transition is in the financial interest of Exxon’s largest shareholders.

TW: A few weeks ago I linked to Mark Blyth’s much less sanguine discussion of asset manager capitalism:


We Need to Talk About Profits

Eli Cook, March 18, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Economists routinely ignore a fundamental set of data about the economy….

We live in a capitalist economy driven by the profit motive. Yet, ironically, the study of profits remains a shockingly neglected subset of the economic discipline. No Nobel Prize in Economics has ever been given to the study of profits. Economists classify their publications into countless categories (the Journal of Economic Literature’s J3 code stands for “wages, compensation and labor costs”), yet there is no category for profits. The American Economic Review last published an article with the word profits in the title in 2014. It was about the Japanese textile industry at the turn of the 20th century. As for metrics, while Carroll Wright’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is still going strong, there is no Bureau of Capital Statistics.

Ignoring profits is not just an intellectual problem, but a political and social one. Never has it been more glaring. As anyone not living in a cave has heard, consumer prices have risen in the past year. (We know this thanks to the consumer price index, or CPI, invented by Wright.) Yet far less known to most Americans is that around the same time as this consumer price increase, there was a staggering jump in corporate profits….

If economics were a more diverse discipline, Americans would be hearing a very different story, one in which the starting baseline for modeling the economy is not the assumption of perfectly competitive markets but rather corporate concentration and asymmetrical market power. According to this approach, large corporations are often not “price takers” but “price makers,” and increasing profits by raising prices is not a theoretical impossibility but an empirical fact familiar to most anyone who has ever run a large business.

Is it better to protect banks or people during crisis? Now we have an answer 

Michael Hiltzik [Los Angeles Times, via Naked Capitalism 3-17-2022]

The U.S. government’s $4-trillion outlay to keep Americans whole during the depths of the pandemic has resulted in a spectacular recovery — indeed, the fastest jobs recovery from the lowest nadir of the 12 American recessions since World War II.

What’s particularly telling is the contrast between the course of this downturn and the last one, the Great Recession of 2008-09, which at the time was the most severe recession since the war….

In 2011, Obama agreed to spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years. In 2013, Obama and a Republican Congress resolved a conflict over the federal debt limit, the Affordable Care Act and the threat of a government shutdown by enacting the “sequester,” an economically catastrophic legislative maneuver to force an 8.5% cut in federal spending. “All this took a big bite out of spending, aggregate demand and economic growth,” Eichengreen wrote.

The political pushback had begun in 2010, which gave Republicans majority control of the House and increased their footprint in the Senate (albeit still a minority). The ultimate result was a premature unwinding of fiscal stimulus, which began to be withdrawn well before the economy had recovered.

“This was the single worst error in macroeconomic policymaking following the financial crisis,” Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless wrote, an oft-quoted conclusion.

Elites pushing austerity

TW: essential historical background is Mark Blyth’s Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2013, Oxford University Press). Youtube “Austerity and the Politics of Money” here

Powell Admires Paul Volcker. He May Have to Act Like Him

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 3-16-2022]

The Federal Reserve is facing the fastest inflation most Americans have ever seen. Its chair says policymakers will do what it takes to tame prices.

Predicting the Next Recession

[Calculated Risk, via The Big Picture 3-16-2022]

The Fed cannot ease pandemic related supply constraints (except by curbing demand), and the Fed cannot stop the war. So, there is a possibility that the Fed will tighten too much and that will lead to a “hard landing” (aka recession).

The Fed Resists the Inflation Hawks

Robert Kuttner, March 16, 2022 [The American Prospect]

Mercifully, the Fed did not follow the loudly blared advice of Larry Summers, who has been on a vendetta against Powell. In his latest screed, in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Summers called for massive rate hikes and a deliberate increase in the unemployment rate to slow inflation….

The flaw in Summers’s analysis is that the current inflation is not the result of ordinary demand overheating, much less wage pressures. We have had a series of supply shocks, compounded by a war.

Artificially engineering a recession will not cure these extraneous factors. It will cause neither more oil nor more semiconductors to materialize. Nor will a punishing rate hike cause more affordable housing to materialize. On the contrary, tight money will make construction and mortgages more expensive.

Summers’s animus seems driven partly by the fact that he keeps badgering Powell, in one op-ed after another, and Powell keeps prudently ignoring his advice; and partly by the fact that Powell has the job of Fed chair that Summers has long coveted.

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

House-Flipping Tech Powers a Boom in Single-Family Rentals 

[Bloomberg, via The Big Picture 3-17-2022]

With billions of dollars from the likes of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and KKR & Co. flowing into single-family rentals, others in the world of real estate technology — known as proptech — also see opportunity for software and tech that can streamline the renovation and rental process….

Mynd plans to double from 20 to 40 markets soon, going from roughly 5,000 to 11,000 units under management. There’s more room for expansion after that: Brien says that just 2% of the industry is currently institutional investment (per Urban Institute stats, 45% of single-family-rental landlords own just one unit, while in contrast, half of multifamily rental units are owned by institutional investors)….

“There is a shortage of six million homes. By speeding up the process of rehabbing homes, we’re able to start closing that gap faster.”

“F*ck You” Money What is the optimal amount of wealth?

[Young Money, via The Big Picture 3-19-2022]

A small increase in wealth leads to a massive increase in happiness when you have little, and massive increases in wealth hardly move the bar as net worth increases. For this exercise, it is important to note that happiness is very low when wealth is zero….

Being (Too) Rich Can Also Suck… Did billions of dollars make Elon Musk miserable? Did Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos suffer failed marriages because of their $100B net worths? Not necessarily. However, the traits that made them so successful both financially and professionally have also made the other aspects of their lives a living hell.

‘Completely demoralized’: US railroad workers pushed to the brink 

[Guardian, via Naked Capitalism 3-15-2022]

Rail Workers Punished for Taking Days Off, Union Says

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

Unionized workers at Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway are angry about a new attendance policy that incentivizes coming to work sick or fatigued.

Predatory Finance

How a wrinkle in the oil futures market has clogged America’s oil pump 

[NPR, via The Big Picture 3-16-2022]

Big deal, you may say. Traders are speculating. That’s just what they do. But it’s not just traders who watch the futures market. Oil companies watch the market closely, too, as do the investors who invest in them, to determine whether it’s worthwhile putting money in the ground.

The King of Block Trades Is Entangled in a U.S. Probe of Morgan Stanley 

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 3-18-2022]

Though Wall Street’s boisterous trading pits have long been overtaken by the hum of electronic venues, the art of trading blocks of stock still endures in Manhattan’s towers. Indeed, its importance has swelled in recent years, as young companies have come to rely on rounds of funding from venture capital and private equity firms.

5-Count Felon JPMorgan Is at the Center of a New, Multi-Billion Dollar Trading Scandal

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 15, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

Traders who feel they were robbed of their profits trading nickel last week at the London Metal Exchange (LME) have taken to Twitter to verbally accuse the LME of favoring their “cronies” and behaving like “slime balls.” Lining up as crony suspect Number 1 are units of JPMorgan Chase who, together, hold the largest number of Class B shares in the London Metal Exchange than any other member.

Wells Fargo Left Black Homeowners Behind in Pandemic Mortgage Refinancing Boom

[Businessweek, via The Big Picture 3-13-2022]

Fewer than half of Black applicants were approved by the biggest bank mortgage lender.

Historical Redlining Is Associated with Present-Day Air Pollution Disparities in U.S. Cities

[American Chemical Society, via Naked Capitalism 3-14-2022]

Information age dystopia

Silence in the media and Labour “left” on Assange’s extradition danger 

[WSWS, via Naked Capitalism 3-16-2022]

California Court Rules Amazon Must Protect Consumers

[As You Sow, via Naked Capitalism 3-15-2022]

The California Court of Appeals Friday ruled Amazon, the world’s largest store, must comply with consumer protection laws including warning California consumers when products sold on its marketplace contain chemicals listed by California as carcinogens or reproductive toxicants…. This ruling deals a major blow to Amazon, which has tried mightily and with some success to evade liability across the country for harm caused by products sold on its marketplace….

“Our position has always been that Amazon’s online shelves must be subject to the same consumer protection laws as other businesses, full stop. Big is not an excuse to harm, and virtual shouldn’t mean lawless. Amazon has the resources to comply with the law and it must do so,” said Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel at As You Sow. “Amazon is in a far better position than individual shoppers to ensure that the products it sells meet health and safety standards.”

Restoring balance to the economy

Tax the land 

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 3-13-2022]

On a land tax, see e..g. Michael Hudson at NC here.

Amazon Workers Walk Out

[DailyPoster, March 19, 2022]

Workers at three different Amazon warehouses in New York and Maryland walked off the job at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, calling attention to the company’s high turnover and demanding a $3-an-hour permanent raise from the paltry $16.25 that Amazon currently offers to new workers. “[Amazon] has no idea what to do about workers taking power for themselves,” Amazon worker Ellie Pfeffer told The American Prospect. “This is why we’re walking out.”

Ukraine / Russia

This is how the world ends

Gilbert Doctorow [via Naked Capitalism 3-19-2022]

Important. Many nuggets, such as who Putin’s “fifth column” remarks on the 16th targeted.

President of Koch-Funded Group Says “Ukraine Doesn’t Matter to America’s Security…” as Koch Says It Will Keep Running Businesses in Russia 

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 18, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

After Promising More than a Week Ago to Shutter Operations in Russia, Nike and Others Can’t Seem to “Just Do It”

Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 14, 2022 [Wall Street on Parade]

How Western Firms Quietly Enabled Russian Oligarchs

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 3-13-2022]

Investment, law and lobbying firms have helped enmesh Kremlin-linked oligarchs into the Western financial and legal systems.

How a Playground for the Rich Could Undermine Sanctions on Oligarchs

[New York Times, via The Big Picture 3-13-2022]

Allies of President Vladimir Putin, arriving on private jets and yachts, are still welcome in the U.A.E., which has yet to condemn the Ukraine invasion or enforce sanctions.

Russia’s billionaires: Who they are, what they own — and can they influence Vladimir Putin?

[Grid, via The Big Picture 3-18-2022]

How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London 

[New Yorker, via The Big Picture 3-18-2022]

From banking to boarding schools, the British establishment has long been at their service, discretion guaranteed.

Londongrad must fall – or the US could raze it to the ground

[OpenDemocracy, via Naked Capitalism 3-18-2022]

Despite recent rhetoric, London still remains wide open for oligarchic wealth, moving and laundering untold billions with few checks, keeping these transnational money-laundering networks cycling….

Over the past few months, Washington has taken a clear global lead in the broader fight against transnational money laundering. While the US stands as a money-laundering haven of its own, the White House has taken significant moves in the past year to finally clean up the American mess – not least elevating corruption to a core national security threat and releasing a seminal counter-kleptocracy strategy document late last year that specifically called out a number of American industries and loopholes. Just this month, president Joe Biden used the State of the Union address to specifically let oligarchs know that the US was “coming for [their] ill-begotten gains”.

[TW: It amazes but does not surprise me that the authors of these recent articles on the financial cesspool that is London appear to have no idea that this has long been a feature, not a big, of the British empire (Perpetual Decline or Persistent Dominance? Uncovering Anglo-America’s True Structural Power in Global Finance), and that there are historically extremely close links between British financial criminals (aka, bankers) and British intelligence.] Also, these writers never consider the obvious prospect of this new hostility toward the City of London being extended to Wall Street and the futures cess pits in Chicago.] 

Russian Oligarchs Find Ally In America’s Small Business Lobby

Julia Rock, March 15, 2022 [DailyPoster]

The lobbying group purporting to represent Main Street business is working to block a crackdown on money launderers’ vehicle of choice….

Corporations increasingly use domestic and offshore shell companies to shield income and assets from high tax rates. The registry of owners of shell companies created by the CTA would be accessible by the IRS. Mounting research and troves of leaked documents have shown that not only are shell companies a key site of money laundering, but they are also increasingly a tool of individual and corporate tax avoidance.

Infographic: How much of your country’s gas comes from Russia? 

[Al Jazeera, via Naked Capitalism 3-19-2022

These Charts Show Russia’s Invasion Choking World Of Natural Resources

[Zero Hedge, via Mike Norman Economics 3-19-2022]

For weeks, we’ve detailed how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked one of the most significant commodity shocks the world has ever experienced. It even supersedes changes to commodity markets in the 1970s and involves every commodity from grain to fertilizer to crude to metals.

In a series of charts (provided by Bloomberg), we will show just how the Ukrainian conflict and Western sanctions on Russia are choking the world’s supply of natural resources, driving up prices.…  The West trying to isolate Russia from the global economy with devastating sanctions and restrict its trade worldwide produces unimaginable inflation that could send the world into a stagflationary hellhole (the US bond market is warning about impending doom). Shortages of commodities could develop as prices skyrocket.

The influencers behind the Ukrainian PR machine 

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 3-18-2022]

John Podhoretz, You Suck 

Matt Taibbi [TK News, via Naked Capitalism 3-18-2022]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Major breakthrough on nuclear fusion energy

[BBC, via The Big Picture 3-16-2022]

European scientists say they have made a major breakthrough in their quest to develop practical nuclear fusion – the energy process that powers the stars.

How Bones Communicate With the Rest of the Body 

[Smithsonian Magazine, via The Big Picture 3-17-2022]

A new vision of the skeleton as a dynamic organ that sends and receives messages suggests potential therapies for osteoporosis and other problems

2022 10 Breakthrough Technologies

[MIT Technology Review, via The Big Picture 3-19-2022]

Democrats’ political suicide

“Democrats’ Hispanic peril”

[Axios, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-15-2022]

“A Wall Street Journal poll last week found that by 9 points, Hispanic voters said they’d back a Republican candidate for Congress over a Democrat. In November, the parties were tied. … Key factors, operatives say, include skepticism among Hispanic voters about programs they view as handouts. And many Hispanics are social conservatives, with what L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano has called a ‘rancho libertarianism streak.’ The national party also needs to do better with messages that distinguish among Americans whose families hailed from Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico or Central America, several Democrats tell me…. Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, based in D.C., told Axios his party keeps hiring political consultants for U.S. House races who know little to nothing about Latino voters: ‘They run the same [expletive] game plan every two years.’”

Conservative / Libertarian Drive to Civil War

Texas mail ballot rejections soar under new restrictions

[Associated Press, March 16, 2022, via Letters from an American]

Texas threw out mail votes at an abnormally high rate during the nation’s first primary of 2022, rejecting nearly 23,000 ballots outright under tougher voting rules that are part of a broad campaign by Republicans to reshape American elections, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Roughly 13% of mail ballots returned in the March 1 primary were discarded and uncounted across 187 counties in Texas. While historical primary comparisons are lacking, the double-digit rejection rate would be far beyond what is typical in a general election, when experts say anything above 2% is usually cause for attention….

…the rejection rate was higher in counties that lean Democratic (15.1%) than Republican (9.1%)….

The unusually high rejection rate to start America’s midterm election season is expected to put more attention on changes to the ballot box elsewhere in the country. Texas’ election was the debut of more restrictive voting rules the GOP raced to put on the books across the U.S. in time for the midterm elections, a push that took particular aim at mail voting that soared in popularity during the pandemic.

At least 17 other states in the coming months will cast ballots under tougher election laws, in part driven by Trump’s baseless and persistent claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election. The rejected ballots in Texas alone far exceeds the hundreds of even possible voter fraud cases the AP has previously identified in six battleground states that Trump disputed.

It’s Official: Texas Republicans’ New Voting Law Disenfranchised Thousands Of Otherwise Eligible Voters

[Talking Points Memo, via Letters from an American]

The rejection rates are staggering. In booming Collin County, for example, nearly 14% of mail-in votes were ultimately rejected, the election administrator there told TPM.

In Harris County, Texas’ largest and home to Houston, a whopping 6,888 ballots were ultimately rejected “as a direct result of Senate Bill 1,” according to a statement from the county to TPM — nearly 19% of mail-in ballots. By comparison only, 135 of the 48,473 votes cast in the 2018 primary were rejected, the statement said — three tenths of a percent.

“That is apocalyptic. It calls into question whether this is even a free and fair election,” said James Slattery, senior staff attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project’s voting rights program. “The sheer, catastrophically high rate of rejections has been very bad.”


In Travis County, home to Austin, 16% of the roughly 11,200 mail-in ballots were initially rejected, and only half of voters were able to cure those rejections in time to be counted, said Victoria Hinojosa of the Travis County clerk’s office.

Almost three of four rejected ballots were from Democrats, and most rejected ballots had “ID issues,” Hinojosa told TPM.

“Some GOP states seek new police units for election probes”

[Associated Press, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-18-2022]

“The efforts to establish law enforcement units dedicated to investigating election crimes come as Republican lawmakers and governors move to satisfy the millions of voters in their party who believe former President Donald Trump’s false claims that widespread voter fraud cost him reelection in 2020. In Florida, Republican lawmakers passed an election police bill pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, who justified its need by citing unspecified cases of fraud. Similar legislation in Georgia would allow the state Bureau of Investigation to examine election fraud claims without invitations from other officials. Republicans say the special police powers are needed to restore confidence in elections and uncover instances of fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups say the new layer of law enforcement would be redundant, given that local and state authorities already identify and prosecute potential fraud cases, and could be leveraged for partisan purposes.”

Murdoch hounded by lawsuits that could cost Fox News billions

[Press Run, via The Big Picture 3-14-2022]

Rupert Murdoch for years has enjoyed a Trump-like ability to avoid responsibility for the avalanche of lies he promotes. That all may be changing thanks to a pair of billion-dollar defamation lawsuits surrounding Trump’s Big Lie campaign….

This week, Justice David Cohen of State Supreme Court in Manhattan issued a stinging rebuke of Fox News. Denying the network’s attempt to dismiss a $2.7 billion lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, the election technology company that Fox smeared as part of Trump’s Big Lie offensive following the 2020 campaign, Cohen waved off Murdoch’s attorneys….

The finding comes just three months after a judge in Delaware issued an identical ruling in another defamation lawsuit against Fox News, this one seeking $1.6 billion in damages. That one was brought by Dominion Voting Systems, which claimed Murdoch’s network smeared the election software company by casting it as a central villain in the GOP’s “rigged” charade.

The (Anti)Federalist Society Infestation of the Courts

“The Supreme Court Did the Right Thing. I’m Still Worried.”

Jamelle Bouie, New York Times, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-15-2022]

“Nestled at the heart of the Republican argument is a breathtaking claim about the nature of state legislative power. Called the independent state legislature doctrine, it holds that Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution — which states that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators” — gives state legislatures total power to write rules for congressional elections and direct the appointment of presidential electors, unbound by state constitutions and free from the scrutiny of state courts. This isn’t a new theory, exactly. In his concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore in 2000 — joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — Chief Justice William Rehnquist argued that under Article II, any “significant departure from the legislative scheme for appointing presidential electors presents a federal constitutional question.” Meaning, in short, that a state court could go beyond its authority in adjudicating state election law. The other two Republican-appointed justices on the court, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Connor, declined to join Rehnquist’s concurrence, even as they voted to stop the counting and give George W. Bush the win. For 20 years, the doctrine lay dormant. It was resurrected in 2020 by allies of Donald Trump, who needed some constitutional pretense for their attempt to overturn his defeat.”



Open Thread


Whataboutism, Justice And What To Do When We’re As Guilty As Russia


  1. Z

    When Putin took power he did exactly what needs to be done in the U.S.: he gave himself the right to unilaterally dismiss the crooked politicians the oligarchs had bribed and blackmailed and he went after the oligarch-owned media.


  2. Z

    In regards to my post above, in the Conflict_with_Putin_and_emigration section in the Wiki entry they get into the sources of this oligarch’s conflicts with Putin:

    Berezovsky’s disagreements with Putin became public three weeks into Putin’s presidency. On 8 May 2000, Berezovsky and Abramovich were spotted together at Putin’s invitation-only inauguration ball in Moscow. However, on 31 May, Berezovsky sharply attacked the constitutional reform proposed by the president, which would give the Kremlin the right to dismiss elected governors. On 17 July 2000, Berezovsky resigned from the Duma, saying he “did not want to be involved in the country’s ruin and the restoration of an authoritarian regime”. In August, Berezovsky’s media attacked Putin for the way he handled the sinking of the Kursk submarine, blaming the death of 118 sailors on the Kremlin’s reluctance to accept foreign help. In September, Berezovsky alleged that the Kremlin had attempted to expropriate his shares in ORT and announced that he would put his stake into a trust to be controlled by prominent intellectuals.

    In an article in The Washington Post in 2000, Berezovsky argued that in the absence of a strong civil society and middle class it may sometimes be necessary for capitalists “to interfere directly in the political process” of Russia as a counterweight to ex-Communists “who hate democracy and dream of regaining lost positions.” Berezovsky took legal action against the journalist Paul Klebnikov, who accused him of various crimes. In October, in an interview in Le Figaro, Putin announced that he would no longer tolerate criticism of the government by media controlled by the oligarchs. “If necessary we will destroy those instruments that allow this blackmail”, he declared. Responding to a question about Berezovsky, he warned that he had a “cudgel” in store for him. “The state has a cudgel in its hands that you use to hit just once, but on the head. We haven’t used this cudgel yet. We’ve just brandished it… [But] the day we get really angry, we won’t hesitate to use it.”

    In the same month, Russian prosecutors revived the Aeroflot fraud investigation and Berezovsky was questioned as a witness. On 7 November 2000, Berezovsky, who was travelling abroad, failed to appear for further questioning and announced that he would not return to Russia because of what he described as “constantly intensifying pressure on me by the authorities and President Putin personally. Essentially,” he said, “I’m being forced to choose whether to become a political prisoner or a political emigrant.” Berezovsky claimed that Putin had made him a suspect in the Aeroflot case simply because ORT had “spoken the truth” about the sinking of the submarine Kursk. In early December, his associate Nikolai Glushkov was arrested in Moscow and Berezovsky dropped the proposal to put ORT stake in trust.

    The journalist Paul Klebnikov mentioned in the excerpt was murdered in 2004 shortly after writing a story on Russia’s 100 richest people.


  3. StewartM

    Land Tax–a very bad idea.

    What is the problem I see? Let me give you an example–we had a Taco Bell down the street from me. A year or two ago, it was closed and boarded up, and not maybe 200 yards down the street someone plowed over some land and trees to build a NEW TACO BELL and left us a boarded-over eyesore. Even in our current tax system, chopping down trees and paving over land is incentivized. “Tax the land” proposals will make that worse. Bye-bye, forests and wetlands; hello, climate change.

    If you’re going to tax the land, then give a credit (not a tax) if the land is left (horrors!) undeveloped. If someone insists on paving over undeveloped land, then tax it heavily and maybe insist that the developer also return to a more natural setting some piece of already-developed property (say, in terms of my Taco Bell example). Incentivize rebuilding on already-developed land and disincentivize paving over undeveloped land.

    The factoid I see repeated about our “housing crises” is that there are more empty units than homeless, because of private equity going into the single-family home business and also the rich buying up vacation properties. Tweak those levers first; then if more is needed build apartment buildings/condos inside cities, and not suburban sprawl.

    But above all, reward people who have property and *don’t* pave it over for a new Walgreens. Pay them if necessary to keep the property. Heck, a better idea is to steal Singapore’s idea of the government owning all land, and people just rent it (with property taxes that’s what you’re doing anyways, effectively).

  4. different clue

    The freakish heat-wave in Antarctica is a demonstration of a flaw in Tony Wikrent’s thinking on the particular issue of the purpose of “economics” in a Civic Republican political economy.

    ” [TW: I have to interject here — the proper political economy of a republic focuses on increasing humanity’s power over nature, to provide the physical, mental, cultural, and psychological goods and services required for a continual improvement of the human condition. More important than an “allocation of resources” is the development of new scientific and technological knowledge to overcome resources scarcities, by finding new resources (including the ability to use resources previously not known, or not fit for use), and extending the scope of use of already known resources (including recycling and less wasteful use). ”

    The flaw lies in the false quest for ” increasing humanity’s power over nature.” Pushed far enough, as nowadays, it will lead nature to increase its power over humanity, as with global warming, which is nature’s response to man’s carbon skyflooding.

    R. Buckminster Fuller once expressed the false goal with the words ” doing more with less”. But the goal was still the same false goal of economic growth. So people motivated by the false goal went from doing “more with less” to doing ” still more with as much as before” and then on to doing ” way more with more than before”. The goal was still the false goal of more control over nature for more economic growth.

    A zero-growth steady-state goal might lead people from ” doing more with less” to “doing the same as before with even less” to ” doing less with almost nothing”.

    The “living within nature” American Indian Nations achieved a better human condition than the “living against nature” Modern Civilizationists have achieved or will ever achieve. The Modern Science and Technology is nice to have and makes certain aspects of human material condition better than before, but as long as it is driven by the control-over-nature ethic, it will lead to the extinction of civilization along with the rest of the 6th Mass Extinction currently under way in service to “increasing human control over nature”.

    Adopting American Indian Ethics and deleting whatever aspects of WesterModern science and technology are incompatible with those ethics will lead to a generally better human condition. Whereas the current deathpath of “increasing human control over nature” will lead to no more humans and no more human condition.

  5. Ché Pasa

    I too puzzle over Tony’s Purpose Statement of the Republic.

    If we accept that the purpose of a republic is to enable and expand human control over nature, we’ve identified one of the primary problems. It’s not Nature.

    Yes, for a time, the illusion of dominance or control over nature can provide apparent benefits to societies, but sooner or later this control will fail, and it will generally fail catastrophically.

    We are guests; Nature is the host. We’re going through a period right now where our host is turning her wrath upon us, and we have little recourse but to submit. There is no techno-solution, no force majeure in human hands that will overcome the multiplicity of catastrophes that beset us, no amount of resources that will counter the forces of Nature.

    But, but, but progress! It’s the natural state of the human condition, right? Always exploring, always striving, always forward leaning, right? Believe strongly enough, and there is nothing we can’t do. Right?

    Willy asked how come some asshole like Elon Musk can get his rockets off the ground — and land them back on earth just like in the 1950s sci-fi movies! — and NASA can’t. Musk’s rockets look like little more that big tin cans with motors and fins. And yet they work, and at least for now they work better than just about anybody’s to do just about anything. Damn, he’s got a farking Tesla orbiting the sun!

    But what ultimate purpose on behalf of the earth or human-kind does any of that serve? NASA or Space X? It’s spectacular, yes. But to what object? NASA does exploration in space way beyond anything Musk can do; Musk gets people up and back from near-space better than NASA — for now — wishes to do. After two Space Shuttle disasters. Caused largely by hubris, bureaucracy, and systemic incompetence.

    Neither of them address what’s needed right here; neither of them can. Nor does our political economy. Not even close.

    It’s left up to individuals to do what they can with whatever skill and resources they can muster to batten down and persevere, because the Republic — however you conceptualize it — is not going to do it. Especially not if its purpose is “growth” and “progress.” Which have long been characterized as the purpose of a cancer cell.

    Maybe some re-thinking is in order?

  6. Willy

    Well, we used to have plague species, whose sole purpose seemed to be describing what we are, what we do, from a cynical misanthropic perspective. Chris Hedges seems a more famous version. Yet, I’ve been around small groups of good and decent people where things make good humanistic horse sense and conquering and destroying nature isn’t the primary objective.

    Trinity linked to a treatise about why all large-group political systems fail. That’s a big topic. Me, I got to see firsthand why Boeing fails, which is a smaller topic. I also remember reading about why the peace and love hippy movement failed. Yes, we all know they got off the drugs and wound up in EST and got jobs in computers. But that article was about how “peace and love” got morphed into “sex, drugs and rock-n-roll”.
    About how peaceful Woodstock got morphed into violent Altamont bringing the 60s to a violent end, much to the delight of white collar conservatives everywhere.

    I think there’s might be a science behind all that. And maybe even a science about fixing all that. And maybe, a science about not letting that science get morphed into something rotten.

    While I’d be perfectly happy to live alone doing the usual peaceful pursuits, living in mostly harmony with nature, I know that if I’m not vigilant, that big tanks with white Z’s painted on them could mow all that down.

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