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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 28, 2021

by Tony Wikrent

Strategic Political Economy


[Brasilwire, via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

In January of this year, a study published by the Center for Research and Studies on Health Law at the University of São Paulo, and NGO Conectas, proved that the spread of the coronavirus in Brazil was a government strategy. The same researchers now insist the president should be investigated for genocide.

In May 2020, the far-right president insisted that “only the weak, the sick and the elderly should be worried” about Covid-19. What sounded like denialism a year ago now reads like a candid admission…. No other country on earth had a head of state actively preventing their population from being vaccinated, whilst leaving the poorest unable to protect themselves through isolation.

A recent study in Brazil’s largest city São Paulo shows that those living in its poorest neighbourhoods are 3 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than those in its wealthiest.

A Better Path to Tech Reform? Felony Charges

[Wired, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-21]

…there are two options to buy time, neither of which requires congressional action. It merely requires the government to apply regulatory tools that do not get used frequently, namely subjecting business executives to felony prosecution.

The first option is an antitrust case against Google led by the attorney general of Texas that alleges a price fixing conspiracy in digital advertising. The complaint names Facebook as a co-conspirator. Price fixing falls under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, significant because it does not require proof of harm. The attempt itself is a crime. And if, as has been alleged, there is evidence of an agreement for mutual legal defense, there may be a second count. When appropriate, executives can be subject to felony prosecution, punishable by up to three years in prison. Google denies any wrongdoing.

The Biden Justice Department has an opportunity to join the Texas case or to pursue its own case as a felony. DOJ can adds Google and Facebook executives to its criminal antitrust indictments. The situation warrants it, as the harms in question are the result of deliberate business choices. The threat of imprisonment might change the calculus for internet CEOs, creating for the first time an incentive to make the changes to their business model necessary to stop harm to public health, democracy, privacy, and competition….


The events of the past year have exposed structural flaws in the economy, the health care system, the electrical grid, and American politics. Some of these problems may appear to be less acute than the pandemic, but all require attention now. This poses a huge challenge for the Biden administration, which is hamstrung by 40 years of deregulation and underfunding of government institutions. They have to use every available tool.

“Top Obama lawyer being vetted for antitrust post”

[Politico, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-26-21]

“The Biden team is vetting Jonathan Sallet — a former top lawyer under the Obama administration and architect of net neutrality rules — for a top antitrust post, two sources familiar with the process told POLITICO…. Sallet would bring decades of experience in antitrust and technology issues. For the past two years, Sallet has worked for Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser heading up the multistate antitrust investigation into Google’s online search products. He was the principal author of the complaint that more than 30 states and territories filed in late December against Google — which takes aim at the search engine’s conduct to make inroads into emerging technologies such as connected cars and home speakers — and served as the lead lawyer on the case until last month. Sallet’s selection for DOJ antitrust chief or FTC chair would signal the Biden administration intends to continue its aggressive pursuit of Google, Facebook and other tech giants.”

Health Care Crisis

Higher COVID Deaths Linked To For-Profit Health Care, Private Equity

[DailyPoster March 23, 2021]

According to a new report from Public Citizen, a national consumer watchdog group, the United States’ for-profit health care system was a leading cause of COVID-19 deaths. The study concludes that “millions of Americans have contracted COVID-19 unnecessarily and hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented.” In total, the report found that one-third of COVID-19 deaths and around 40 percent of infections were linked to a lack of health insurance.

The report singles out employer-based health care, hospitals focusing on profits over safety, understaffing at nursing homes, and underfunding of public health infrastructure. It notes that existing disparities exacerbated the impact of the pandemic in Black communities in particular.

“The cardinal sin of our health care system is that it puts profits over people and corporations over communities,” the report reads.

“Rural-Urban Differences In Severe Maternal Morbidity And Mortality In The US, 2007–15”

[Health Affairs, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-25-21]

“severe maternal morbidity and mortality increased among both rural and urban residents in the study period, from 109 per 10,000 childbirth hospitalizations in 2007 to 152 per 10,000 in 2015. When we controlled for sociodemographic factors and clinical conditions, we found that rural residents had a 9 percent greater probability of severe maternal morbidity and mortality, compared with urban residents.”

Why Does the US Pay the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs? (hearing)

[U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor & Pensions, via Naked Capitalism] Starts at 14:42. L 3-24

The carnage of mainstream neoliberal economics

“Because of Monopolies, Income Inequality Significantly Understates Economic Inequality” (PDF)

[Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-23-21]

“In social science research, household income is widely used as a stand-in for, or approximation to, the economic well-being of households. In a parallel way, income-inequality has been employed as a stand-in for inequality of economic well-being, or for brevity, “economic-inequality.” But there is a force in market economies, ones with extensive amounts of monopoly, like the United States, which leads income- inequality to understate economic-inequality. This force has not been recognized before and derives from how monopolies behave. Monopolies, of course, raise prices. This reduces the purchasing power of households, or the value of their income. But monopolies, in fact, reduce the purchasing power of low- income households much more than high-income households. What has not been recognized is that, in many markets, as monopolies raise the prices for their goods, they simultaneously destroy substitutes for their products, low-cost substitutes that are purchased by low-income households. In these markets, then, while high-income households face higher prices, low-income households are shut out of markets, markets for goods and services that are extremely important for their economic well-being. It often leaves them with extremely poor alternatives, and sometimes none, for these products. Some of the markets we discuss include those for housing, financial services, and K-12 public education services. We also discuss markets for legal services, health care services, used durable equipment and repair services. Monopolies that infiltrate public institutions to enrich members, including those in foster care services, voting institutions and antitrust institutions, are also discussed.” • Pretty amazing, for the Fed. Maybe one day they’ll write about the workplace.

Blow Up the Global Trading System

Clyde Prestowitz [Washington Monthly, via Naked Capitalism 3-27-21]

Prestowitz is a former USTR.

This is very different from what the free world expected when it welcomed China into the free trade body in 2001. From the time of Deng Xiaoping’s adoption of some market methods in 1979 and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, free world leaders believed increased trade with and investment in China would inevitably lead to the marketization of its economy, the demise of its state-owned enterprises, and at least some liberalization of its political system, although the crushing of protestors at Tienanman Square in 1989 certainly dampened headier expectations of democracy. That this anticipation was wildly at odds with reality was made clear on March 1, 2018, by none other than a former champion of China’s admission to the WTO. The Economist’s cover story of that day declared that the free world had “made the wrong bet.” China, it said, was not liberalizing politically or economically….

The system arose out of the Pax Americana and a deep faith that the U.S. would always be the world’s manufacturing and technology superpower, have the highest productivity, pay the highest wages, and always run a surplus or balanced trade account. Today’s low transportation and communication costs, huge economies of scale, mercantilist trade policies, cross-border investment, and financial investment incentives were simply not envisioned. Nor was the absence in other countries of effective labor unions and environmental and safety facilities. All these factors were simply not recognized at the time.

Prestowitz lies outright here: “the absence in other countries of effective labor unions and environmental and safety facilities… were simply not recognized at the time.” Every labor union in USA tried to warn there would be a “race to the bottom” exactly because of these absences. Many critics were silenced, some by murder:

“The Chicago Boys in Chile: Economic Freedom’s Awful Toll”
Orlando Letelier, August 28, 1976 [History is a Weapon]

Less than a month after this was published, Orlando Letelier was assassinated by Chilean secret police in broad daylight on the streets of Washington DC.

Fast Food Giant Claims Credit For Killing $15 Minimum Wage

Walker Bragman, Andrew Perez, and David Sirota, March 26, 2021 [DailyPoster]

The parent company of some of America’s largest fast food chains is claiming credit for convincing Congress to exclude a $15 minimum wage from the recent COVID relief bill, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm named after an Ayn Rand character, also says it is now working to thwart new union rights legislation.

The company’s boasts come just a few months after a government report found that some of its chains had among the highest percentage of workers relying on food stamps.

Inspire Brands — which owns Jimmy Johns, Arby’s, Sonic, and Buffalo Wild Wings, plus recently acquired Dunkin’ Donuts for $11.3 billion in November — on Thursday sent employees and franchisees a review of its government lobbying activity that highlighted its success in keeping the $15 minimum wage out of Democrats’ American Rescue Plan, the COVID-19 relief bill….

Thomas Piketty and Karl Marx: Two Totally Different Visions of Capital

[The Hampton Institute, via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

Richest Americans Hide 20% Of Income, Costing You $175 Billion Annually 

[Heisenberger Report, via Naked Capitalism 3-23-21]

Reporting on a new report by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Tax Evasion at the Top of the Income Distribution: Theory and Evidence.” (pdf)

The top 1% hides a fifth of their income from the IRS. Or, if you want to leave the rich blameless in this equation, you can restate the takeaway as follows: The IRS fails to track down 20% of the income earned by the rich.

There are two main culprits: Offshore accounts and pass-through businesses. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Indeed, that’s precisely what I meant on March 2, when I not-so-gently suggested that anyone who’s rich and still paying a lot in taxes has “failed as a rich person.”

Average corporate tax rate plunged by more than half after GOP overhaul

[Politico, via The Big Picture 3-23-21]

The average tax rate on U.S. corporations fell by more than half, to 7.8 percent, in the wake of Republicans’ 2017 tax overhaul, according to a new government analysis.

In a report sure to inflame the debate over corporate taxation, the official Joint Committee on Taxation also said businesses continue to make extensive use of offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda to reduce their tax bills.

[LA Times, via The Big Picture 3-25-21]
The unreported income for the 1%, households with more than about $420,000 in annual income, is as much as one-third higher than previously estimated, the authors wrote. For the 0.1%, households with at least $7.5 million in annual income, it’s 80%.

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

Biden’s New Deal: Re-engineering America, quickly

[Axios, via Doug Henwood on Facebook]

President Biden recently held an undisclosed East Room session with historians that included discussion of how big is too big — and how fast is too fast — to jam through once-in-a-lifetime historic changes to America.

Why it matters … The historians’ views were very much in sync with his own: It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.

Four things are pushing Biden to jam through what could amount to a $5 trillion-plus overhaul of America, and vast changes to voting, immigration and inequality.

  1. He has full party control of Congress, and a short window to go big.
  2. He has party activists egging him on.
  3. He has strong gathering economic winds at his back.
  4. And he’s popular in polls.

….People close to Biden tell us he’s feeling bullish on what he can accomplish, and is fully prepared to support the dashing of the Senate’s filibuster rule to allow Democrats to pass voting rights and other trophy legislation for his party.

  • He loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.

“A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.” — John Adams

The Years of Work Behind Washington’s Best-Liked Man 

(The New York Times, via The DailyPoster 3-26-2021]

Economist Claudia Sahm recounts the decades of work by progressives to reshape the policy priorities of Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

The Conservative Assault on the Law

The People’s Parity Project [you may have to scroll down a bit]

Cory Doctorow [Pluralistic 3-16-2021]

…The Federalist Society project was decades in the making: wealthy conservatives poured money into it, year after year, both in creating a Federalist pipeline at law-schools, then securing positions for baby Federalists in large firms and courts.

As the project of corrupting the courts bore fruit, producing elite-friendly, wealth-friendly decisions that reversed decades of progress against discrimination and exploitation, it gathered steam and supporters and became a lobbying priority across multiple industries.

The Trump appointments were a massive leap forward for the Federalists. Thanks to McConnell’s stonewalling on appointing judges under Obama, there were many vacancies to fill, including a Supreme Court seat, when Trump took office….

Taking On Corporate Law, in Both Parties

Daniel Boguslaw [The American Prospect 3-16-2021]

The People’s Parity Project (PPP), founded in 2018 by four Harvard Law students, was initially conceived as an activist group to reform the legal profession. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, the organization kicked off by advocating against the forced-arbitration contracts used by corporate law firms to silence young attorneys, while also calling attention to the gender and racial discrimination running rampant in highly competitive clerkships….

the upstart legal group has grown into a sprawling and multifaceted organization, equipped to challenge not only the Federalist Society, but the economic and social formations that enabled and sustained its rise. With support from Demand Justice and the Center for Popular Democracy, the People’s Parity Project has lobbied President Joe Biden to appoint a vetted suite of progressives for circuit court judgeships, successfully ended forced arbitration at massive firms like Kirkland & Ellis (for both attorney and non-attorney staff), and launched chapters at over a dozen high-profile law schools, including Harvard, NYU, and the University of Michigan. On these campuses, a new, progressive legal dogma is starting to take shape.

“Law school plays a huge role in creating a series of blinders that elevate prestige and competition and which can turn law students into high-achieving drones who won’t question their role in a fundamentally corrupt environment,” Anne Tewksbury, a PPP chapter organizer at NYU, told the Prospect. “But our rigged legal system isn’t actually fixed in place: It’s made up of lawyers like us. And we do have power here when we bring a labor organizing approach to this work and remind ourselves and our classmates that we’re not just fighting the system from the outside, but that after graduating, we’re going to be the system.”

The core tenets of organized labor play a recurring role in both the structure and philosophy of the PPP, from an organizing model that seeks to recruit new members by advocating for their rights on campus, to the chapters’ growing ranks of students pressuring politicians on radical labor reforms like the PRO Act. PPP’s campaign against forced arbitration also situates the rights of lawyers alongside minimum-wage workers, arguing that nobody should be forced to sign coercive contracts, given their staggering impact on the workforce. According to the PPP, $12.6 billion was stolen from low-wage workers in 2019 due to forced arbitration, 98 percent of workers abandon employment claims when the only option is arbitration, and 60 million U.S. workers are now blocked by forced arbitration from suing for their rights….

The corporate catechism that Coleman describes has long thrived within the American Constitution Society (ACS), a legal group founded on the false belief that a coterie of powerful lawyers and Democratic insiders could create an equal and opposing force to rival the Federalist Society. But since its establishment after the 2000 presidential election decision, the ACS has only evinced the same corporate fealty as the Democratic Party that first spawned it, recently drawing public ire after The Intercept reported that Amazon’s VP of labor relations, Andrew DeVore, sat on its board.

Right-Wing Groups Rally Around Anti-Union Case Argued in Supreme Court Today

[Center for Media and Democracy, via The Daily Poster 3-23-2021]

Provides comprehensive lists of funding sources for conservative extremist legal efforts.

In addition to industry groups like the California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, numerous conservative legal centers and think tanks have filed amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs in the case. The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has identified 14 right-wing nonprofits, including those tied to the Bradley, Koch, Scaife, and Uihlein fortunes, that donated a total of over $1 million from 2015 to 2019 to at least two of the groups that filed supportive briefs, or to PLF and at least one amicus group.

PLF is a right-wing think tank and associate member of the State Policy Network, a web of like-minded nonprofits and think tanks that share funders and coordinate political and legal efforts.

Seven other State Policy Network associate members, including the libertarian Cato Institute, the well-funded Institute for Justice, and the charitable affiliate of Charles Koch’s political group Americans for Prosperity, filed amicus briefs in support of Cedar Point’s argument in December and January. Several additional ideologically aligned groups did so as well. Many of the amicus filers share donors. The top right-wing funders that donated to two or more of the amicus organizations from 2015 to 2019 include the Charles Koch Foundation ($11.8 million to PLF and six brief filers), the Searle Freedom Trust ($7.7 million to PLF and seven filers), and DonorsTrust ($19.2 million to PLF and nine amicus filers).

White Prejudice Against Blacks Has Huge Impact in Jury Trial Results

[National Bureau of Economic Research, via The Daily Poster 3-23-2021]

A new working paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research notes that residents from predominantly white and high-income neighborhoods are over-represented on juries and are more likely to convict Black defendants and give them longer sentences. “We estimate that equal representation would reduce Black defendants’ median sentence length by 50 percent and the probability of receiving a life sentence by 67 percent,” it reads.

Information Age Dystopia

How Biden Can Clean Up Obama’s Big Tech Mess

Matt Stoller, BIG, via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

The Growing Movement to End the Surveillance Economy

David Dayen, March 24, 2021 [The American Prospect]

A new coalition has formed against digital platforms’ dangerous business model of collecting voluminous user data and using it to serve up ads…. a newly formed broad coalition agrees with me that endless tracking around the internet only facilitates the interests of monopolies at the expense of society, feeding addiction, disinformation, toxic politics, and the death of the free press. Here’s an excellent short video from the coalition.

Thirty-eight different advocacy organizations have come together to Ban Surveillance Advertising. They argue that as long as social media platforms profit from collecting more user data—so they can use it to target ads—then they will do whatever possible to hook and keep users on their sites, amplifying “echo chambers, radicalization, and viral lies.” By enabling Facebook and Google to track and serve ads across the web and deliver precisely modeled audiences to advertisers, targeted ads also rob news publishers of their own business model, by making irrelevant the unique specialness of their readerships….

Since I’ve been looking at this for a few years, let me address some of the big questions around banning targeted ads. First, the government absolutely has the power to do this. Marketing and advertising is routinely monitored through the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive practices and truthfulness. The U.S. has banned cigarette ads on TV and radio, banned ads for smokeless tobacco, banned 900-number ads marketed to children under 12, among other advertising bans targeted at kids, and banned the online collection of data from children under 13. We’ve even banned television ads that are too loud….

We do know that Facebook and Google constantly lie to advertisers about the reach and effectiveness of targeted ads by wildly overstating video viewing, misreporting referral traffic, and even claiming, in Facebook’s case, that they reach more young people than exist in the United States. It’s hard to tell a plausible story that these ads are necessarily worth it for advertisers.

“Amazon Denies Workers Pee in Bottles. Here Are the Pee Bottles”

[Vice, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-25-21]

“[T]he fact that Amazon delivery drivers pee in bottles and coffee cups in their vans is not invented. It has been well-documented, and is a huge talking point among many delivery drivers. It is one of the most universal concerns voiced by the many Amazon delivery drivers around the country that Motherboard has interviewed. Delivery workers, who drive Amazon emblazoned vans, often deliver up to 300 packages a day on a 10 hour shift. If they take too long, they can be written up and fired. So spending time locating and using a bathroom is not always an option. In fact, here’s a photo of an Amazon delivery driver’s pee bottles. Motherboard confirmed the driver’s position and employment.” • In fact, “urine bottles” are the subject of management directives:

Climate and environmental crises

Climate change is driving a metals and mining boom

[Coppola Comment, via The Big Picture 3-22-21]

The world is transitioning from a carbon-intensive to a metals-intensive economy. Low-carbon technologies use much larger amounts of metal than traditional fossil fuel-based systems. Demand for metals is rising exponentially, fueling a boom in mining and production. But this creates an environmental challenge. Metals extraction and processing is a significant contributor to global warming and a major pollutant. (Coppola Comment)

Climate Anxiety Is an Overwhelmingly White Phenomenon

[Scientific American, via Naked Capitalism 3-25-21]

Financial world greenwashing the public with deadly distraction in sustainable investing practices

(USA Today, via The Big Picture 3-23-21]

Former BlackRock executive blows the whistle on Greenwashing; Fear of missing out on fund flows gives asset managers a strong incentive to pretend all their offerings are green.

The Promise of Offshore Wind

Brittany Gibson, March 24, 2021 [The American Prospect]

We can create good jobs and clean, cheap power by bringing back production as well as accelerating installation.

Collapse of Independent News Media

Project Veritas Wins Victory Against New York Times In Defamation Action

Jonathan Turley [via Naked Capitalism 3-22-21]

The Dark Side

America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 16 maps and charts

[Vox, via  The Big Picture 3-25-21]

Americans make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet they own roughly 45 percent of all the world’s privately held firearms

The charts are graphic and compelling.

“Sweeping changes to Georgia elections signed into law”

[Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-26-21]

“Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed a vast rewrite of Georgia’s election rules into law Thursday, imposing voter ID requirements, limiting drop boxes and allowing state takeovers of local elections after last year’s close presidential race.” This is especially ugly: “The bill also will allow the State Election Board to take over county election boards that it deems need intervention. Skeptics say that will allow Republican officials to decide which ballots count in majority Democratic areas, such as Fulton County.”

“Neil Gorsuch Supports an Originalist Theory That Would Destroy Modern Governance”

[Slate, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 3-22-21]

“On Thursday, the Columbia Law Review published one of the most important and topical scholarly articles in recent memory, “Delegation at the Founding.” Its authors, Julian Davis Mortenson and Nicholas Bagley, put forth a sweeping argument: They assert that an ascendant legal theory championed by conservative originalists has no actual basis in history. That theory, called the nondelegation doctrine, holds that the Constitution puts strict limits on Congress’ ability to let the executive branch set rules and regulations. Congress, for instance, could not direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set air quality standards that ‘protect public health,’ and let the agency decide what limits on pollution are necessary to meet that goal. Nondelegation doctrine has enormous consequences for the federal government’s ability to function, since Congress typically sets broad goals and directs agencies to figure out how to achieve them. The theory is supported by a majority of the current Supreme Court; in 2019, Justice Neil Gorsuch signaled his eagerness to apply the doctrine, and at least four other conservative justices have joined his crusade.”

What is a republic?

How Small A Minority Should Be Allowed To Rule?

David Sirota [Weekly Poster 3-24-2021]

A filibuster-free Senate would still give 17 percent of the population enough representation to stop anything…. In the modern era, the structure of the Senate has often turned the upper chamber into a place that does not merely respect minority rights — it has actually allowed the minority to rule, regardless of the status of the filibuster. As CNN’s Ronald Brownstein recounted last year, “While the GOP has controlled the Senate for about 22 of the past 40 years, Republican senators have represented a majority of the nation’s population for only a single session over that period: from 1997 to 1998.”

….That is because under simple-majority voting rules, the majority of the country’s population does not necessarily rule the Senate. Even without the filibuster, the Senate is still a place where the 265,000 South Dakotans who elected Thune get as much representation as the 2.2 million Georgia voters who elected Raphael Warnock. Consequently, a filibuster-free Democratic Senate would still allow a minority of the population’s senators to rule, if they so choose — because the Senate still provides far less than half the country with the 51 votes necessary to stop any legislation in its tracks….

If you happen to be one of those constitutional originalists worried about preserving the power of small states, don’t fret. The power imbalance becomes more pronounced when you take party out of the equation and just look at states with the least population. Fifty-two senators from the least populated states currently represent just 17 percent of America’s total population — but they would still be able to stop all legislation in a filibuster-free Senate under simple-majority rules….

When the Founders created the Senate, they aimed to guarantee that the minority of the population still had rights — they didn’t care about the rights of political parties or factions (which many of them hated).

By contrast, when Republicans like Thune depict the filibuster as a noble bulwark protecting “minority rights,” he is not talking about protecting a minority of the population. He is talking about fortifying the power of the chamber’s minority political factions, regardless of how small a segment of the population those factions actually represent.

I do not disagree with anything Sirota writes here, but a few sentences about (this is a republic not a democracy) irk me, because they exemplify how Democrats and progressives have ceded to conservatives and (not)Republicans a very important fight about political ideology. Also, e ought not disparage ideas such as “Madison’s desire to restrict democracy in order to limit ‘the impulse of sudden and violent passions’ “. Especially since we have such recent example of “sudden and violent passions” in the form of Trump supporters storming the Capitol building on January 6.  “The impulse of sudden and violent passions” is something we must guard against.

A republic differs from a democracy in that a republic is based on the understanding that ANY concentration of power is dangerous — political OR economic, or even social (such as exclusive country clubs). So, it’s not just the danger of a majority trampling the rights of a minority (and where were the conservatives with this argument during the 1950s and 1960s struggles for civil rights?) but even more the danger of a minority trampling the rights and even harming the interests of the majority. After all, isn’t that what monarchies, oligarchies, and aristocracies do? And isn’t that how the USA as a republic was most easily defined — that USA stood against monarchies, oligarchies, and aristocracies? Just read Paine’s delightful tear-downs of King George and the British ministers!

To paraphrase (not)Republican whip Thune: “Letting a minority do everything it wants to is not what the Founders had in mind,”

Thus, the real difference between a democracy and a republic is that in a democracy, if a majority decides to abridge or ignore the rights of a minority, or harm their interests, there is no recourse for the minority; while in a republic, entire institutions of government are designed with checks and balances, and placed under the rule of law, not the rule of men and women, and political and social traditions created, nurtured, and defended, that also serve as checks on any dangerous minority (for example, the cultural tradition of expecting military officers to refuse involvement in and even comment on, political affairs).

The really interesting and important thing, I think, is that conservatives and (not)Republicans do not discuss this much bigger picture of what a republic is supposed to be. They are obviously only peddling self-serving arguments designed to benefit only them, evincing on their part a complete lack of civic virtue (regard for the public interest and the General Welfare).


Open Thread


The Vast Confusion of Implicit Assumptions Like Wages and Productivity


  1. Willy

    NGO Conectas, proved that the spread of the coronavirusin Brazil was a government strategy.

    The obvious question to be begged is, so how does the USA compare with Brazil?

    The USA has about 1 ½ times Brazils population.

    In total cases the USA has 2.48 times more.
    In total deaths the USA has 1.81 times more.
    In total active cases the USA has 5.38 times more.

    I was gonna suggests that gross incompetency can be worse than intentional strategy. But then I saw the article underneath about for-profit health care. Was Trumpism actually about managing the consumer livestock, for the sake of PTB profit margins?

  2. different clue


    If your supposition-in-question-form is correct, then Trumpism would be a great ” hidden-in-plain-sight” achievement.

    Because Trumpism was sold as a rebellion against bipartisan Catfood Depublicrat managing the consumer livestock for the sake of PTB profit margins.

  3. different clue

    Interesting that Inspire Brands would brag openly about getting the $15.00 minimum wage deleted from legislation.

    Interesting because . . . . did they not realize that by bragging about this under their own name, which lets us find out the names of the particular fast food businesses they own, that they have given the Fight For Fifteen community-movement some named targets to act against?

    The particular fast food outlets which Inspire Brands owns should be torture-cotted until Inspire Brands is forced to sell them off, or close them down, or instruct Congress to pass the $15.00 minimum wage. There are fast food alternatives to all these Inspire Brands captive companies. For example, right here in SouthEast Michigan, we have any number of Tim Horton’s outlets. Their coffee and donuts may or may not be quite as good as Dunkin Donuts’s, but if the goal here is to torturecott or extermicott Dunkin Donuts, then Tim Horton’s is a good-enough alternative.

  4. Plague Species

    Trumpism was an is about letting a madman malevolent clown into the cowpen to stab all the cows with a samurai sword as the wealthy elite the bleachers cheer and jeer.

    “Let them eat bleach!!”

  5. Hugh

    Republicans are a minority party. The only way they can hold power in most places is by voter suppression, gerrymandering, anti-democratic relics like the electoral college, the Senate, the filibuster, and McConnell’s stacking of the judiciary. As I have said before, the Republicans have won the popular vote for President only once since 1992, and that was Bush’s post- 9/11 second term. If we were doing things by the popular vote, which he lost in 2000, Bush likely wouldn’t have even been a candidate, let alone an incumbent in 2004. As for the Senate, a majority of the US population live in 9 states and are represented by 18 Senators. A minority of the country is represented by the other 82. About 18% of the US population live in 26 states, which would be enough to form a Senate majority of 52.

    The US is deeply unrepresentative. Yet the Republicans are increasingly unable to exploit these disparities as they once did. So when Trump loses an election he starts an insurrection. McConnell tries to execute a run around elections altogether and stack the courts. When he feels his even more undemocratic filibuster might disappear McConnell threatens to “burn down” the Senate. Republicans in state legislatures try to disenfranchise as many black and brown voters as they can. That so much of this appears ordinary, business as usual to us is an indication of just how sick and anti-democratic we are as a society.

  6. NR

    Well said, Hugh.

  7. bruce wilder

    The only way they can hold power in most places is by voter suppression, gerrymandering, anti-democratic relics like the electoral college, the Senate, the filibuster, . . .

    For some self-invented meaning of “most places”, perhaps, while overlooking the whys and wherefores of the absolute refusal of the Democrats to compete electorally and effectively “in most places”. Sure they are very happy to run up their margins in a state like mine, California, which has a big population but a tiny Republican Party. (It wasn’t always solidly Democratic — Herbert Hoover, Earl Warren, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan were California Republicans.)

    There is a dark side to the Democratic “coalition” of Big Finance and Monopoly Tech, which fills Party coffers for Presidential elections and piles up votes on the Left Coast and in the Northeast: strip-mining the industrial rust-belt where Democrats betray (former) union households for fun and profit.

    The Democrats won’t risk their place at the pig trough to challenge Republicans in the South or anywhere in flyover country. Those gerrymanders Hugh rails against are gratefully accepted by Democrats who want to use idpol not economics to secure safe seats. Sure, they pile up more useless surplus votes, but they like it that way. Control state legislatures — every ten years the Republicans “surprise” Democrats who rejected a 50-state strategy. How much more satisfying it was for Obama to deliver for the plutocracy! How much better for Hillary Clinton to circumvent campaign finance laws in ways designed to destroy the State and national Party organizations! No, Pelosi requires Democratic Congress Critters spend the better part of everyday raising campaign funds from lobbyists for business corporations.

    So, absolutely Hugh be a good little boy and focus on the filibuster while ignoring the Money. The Democrats will get rid of the filibuster just in time to make themselves powerless to block a Republican Senate bent on doing what corrupt conservatives in both Senators of both Parties want in their black hearts.

    In principle, the American Party system is flexible enough to leverage adaptation to local circumstance and bases in State and local institutions to keep a republic of democratic representation alive, but neither Party’s leadership wants that. The Parties are far from symmetrical in their opposed constructions, but they have in common the alienation of their established leadership from their respective, traditional electoral bases. That can remain a stable political equilibrium only so long as no one takes advantage, at least no one smarter than Trump on the right or Sanders on the Left, which also means no movement forms that is serious enough not to be surprised when Republicans allow black votes in Georgia or Democrats take the money and run in Nevada or come up with an app for that in Iowa.

  8. Joseph E. Kelleam

    Pssttt…Hugh knows all that. He gets paid to obscure it.

  9. Ché Pasa

    Re: Minority Rule

    I’d be more than happy to abolish the senate and double or triple the size of the house. Rules that protect or support the minority are not necessarily intrinsic to a republic — we’ve seen in our own case that they are easy to set aside for any reason or no reason — but allowing/enabling a minority controlled senate to literally decide what or whether legislation will be passed is a fool’s game that cannot/will not end well.

  10. Ché Pasa

    …what or whether legislation will be considered or passed….

  11. Seattle Resident


    The democratic party has to challenge the voter suppression because they will potentially never win the lions share of congressional and presidential elections for the foreseeable future. The dems will lose, not just in the southern states, but in the purple states controlled by republican legislatures. If they don’t throw out the filibuster to pass the John Lewis Voting Act and pretty much forfeit the ability to win senate majorities and presidential elections, the democrats will not be able to actively compete for the donor money that you speak of. Why give money to some candidate outside of NY and CA that will likely struggle to win in the face of a rigged voter suppression game? Furthermore, that political equilibrium between the two wings of the money party will also be gone since the national electoral power due to voter suppression in the purple and red states will be, primarily, in the hands of the republicans.

  12. bruce wilder

    A bicameral legislature, elected on contrasting principles of vote counting and representation has much to recommend it in the abstract at least. The arbitrary geography of states and the obstacles to rationally reconstituting them is one of the gravest defects of the 1789 Constitution; the Senate and its “unamendable” allocation of votes to the motley collection of accidents called these several states ought to be dynamited for reasons quite apart from partisan rivalry in the Senate.

    I worry about the poor quality of reason that seems to think democracy magically secured by 50% plus 1 prevailing in a vote on someone or something sometime. That is not how a republic works and a republic that endures and adapts rationally to circumstances and opportunities, while preserving a workable loyalty to the common good and the institutions of governance in the public interest ought to be the meta-goal of a constitutional order for a representative democracy. Forcing deliberation and persuasion onto mass politics is no easy task and it is not magically achieved by any arrangement, but least of all by too-simple majoritarianism.

  13. bruce wilder

    @ Seattle Resident

    You cannot win elections if either you do not show up or show up with a fatally flawed candidate. For a Party that “has to” fight voter suppression, they show surprisingly little interest in either electoral integrity or voter registration.

    I am not convinced that the Democratic Party wants to win more than the Presidency and a Congressional stalemate. What they deliver to their donors is their very ineffectual disinterest in governing. Job #1 for the Democrats is to prevent a mass coalition from forming behind international isolation and fundamental economic reforms domestically. For that they need vast sums to fund the manipulative propaganda that divides the country by framing issues in ways that make people mad at each other and unwilling to even imagine political deliberation and compromise.

  14. Hugh

    bruce is so twisted by his hatred of Democrats that if you don’t hate them as much as he does and in the very same ways he does, then you must be no doubt some paid defender of them. So if I point out that the Republicans are a minority party and their response to this is not to broaden their appeal but to exploit the anti-democratic aspects of the Constitution and to subvert the democratic process in every way they can think of, this triggers another of his tantrums.

    bruce is anti-progressive. He would rather defend Republicans and attack Democrats. If the Republicans have no use for elections or votes, then bruce doesn’t either. He dismisses them as “too-simple majoritarianism.”

  15. bruce wilder

    No, Hugh, what I am saying is that the Party system of partisan rivalry and rotation in office is broken and the Democratic Party functions to entrap and render inert the left aka “progressive” impulses and energy, so that there is no effective political vehicle or voice to oppose perpetual war for global empire or to champion the interests of the vast majority in fundamental economic reform and energy transition.

    Hugh is entrapped in a manipulative propaganda narrative of “good” Democrats vs “evil” Republicans and never notices the Democrats are unconcerned with electoral integrity, voter registration and mobilization, or campaign finance reform. Two rigged primary campaigns in 2016 and 2020 to impose unsuitable candidates and unpopular policies go unnoticed. The alliance of the Democrats with the police-military-“intelligence community” to build a surveillance state goes unnoticed.

  16. bruce wilder

    The model of “monopoly” used in mainstream economic analysis is fundamentally stupid, derived from a faulty textbook analysis of a “sole” seller raising prices by restricting output. In real life, economic power flows from the barrel of a bureaucracy and an entanglement of rules governing networks of dependent servicers and suppliers. In many industries, it is as likely that the market will be flooded with output and outlets, even as price discrimination schemes and forms of redlining extract greater revenue and deficiencies in quality multiply.

    Legal prohibitions on certain business practices, such as resale price maintenance, are likely to be more effective than futile attempts to “break-up” sole sellers, while attacking conglomeration of strategic control in “universal banking” and media conglomerates are urgent matters.

  17. Willy

    is entrapped in a manipulative propaganda narrative of “good” Democrats vs “evil” Republicans and never notices the Democrats are unconcerned with electoral integrity, voter registration and mobilization, or campaign finance reform.

    So where is all the talk coming from? Shouldn’t we theoretically right here, all be ignorant of this “Democrats are every bit as bad as Republicans” by now, because we’re being told to believe such by powerful machinations?

    never notices the Democrats are unconcerned with electoral integrity, voter registration and mobilization, or campaign finance reform.

    Again, why do we keep hearing so much about “electoral integrity, voter registration and mobilization, or campaign finance reform”, if both parties in total power care nothing about them? Who are these people and should we consider supporting them?

  18. Ché Pasa

    The senate has been problematical from the outset, particularly as it began as an appointed body by state legislatures, but it has long been a preening obscenity that should never have been allowed essentially absolute control not only over legislation but over federal court and other federal appointments as well.

    If the senate were abolished, there would then be little rationale for the states.

    But of course none of this can happen without a different constitution. Last I heard, a constitutional convention was only a couple of states away. If it should happen, there’s your next revolution.

  19. js

    Electoral registration and integrity fine, but campaign finance reform is a case of why even bring it up? Wouldn’t campaign finance reform require a constitutional amendment? Yea Dems are never likely to have the votes for that regardless of how terrible or wonderful they are. Or if not that wouldn’t it at least require a favorable supreme court? Yea, no chance of that in the foreseeable future is there?

  20. Hugh

    bruce continues to blather. One passing reference to Republicans and the rest of a paragraph on evil Democrats, a line or line and a half on Republicans in a comment and the next twenty on “those” Democrats. For bruce, the king of false equivalents, this is business as usual.

  21. Willy

    bruce once suggested to me that MLB fans are foolish to be MLB fans because MLB stats aren’t accurate and there have been cheating scandals.

    I’d pulled that example when looking for ideas about quantifying a particular public servants voting record relative to the general polling of his constituents. IOW, it’s impossible to rate public servants because “if the MLB is that dishonest, then politics could only be so much worse”.

    Yet when no matter what MLB resource I look at, Ichiro’s stats remain consistent and Barry Bond’s* name always has an asterisk besides it.

    * = implicated in a doping scandal

    Accurate quantification is important because it would help illustrate, for the typical voter, the credibility of any political candidate and their location on the Overton window.

  22. Hugh

    js, we are told the current Supreme Court is split 6-3 between conservatives and liberals, but the split is between reactionaries and moderates. More importantly, the Court is 9-0 pro-rich, pro-corporation. As I have pointed out in the past, historically the Court has been on the side of the haves against the haves for all of its history, except maybe from Brown in 1954 to Roe in 1973.

    In Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, the Court held that money was speech and this was re-affirmed in Citizens United in 2010. The Supreme Court is a charade where the justices make up stuff to defend whatever they want. That is the status quo and those who control it. If that is slavery, then they defend slavery. If it is abusing workers, then they kick off the Lochner era. If it is Jim Crow, then we get Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). If Scalia is a gun nut, then we get DC v. Heller (2008). Scalia was an originalist which meant he got out his ouija board and told us what the Framers really meant, which just happened to coincide with Scalia’s prejudices. The Second Amendment was written by the Framers not to enshrine some “right” to bear arms but because they feared the power of a standing national army and the South was scared pee-less by the possibility of a slave revolt. The Supreme Court is around to justify and legitimize the rich and powerful, and their prejudices, period.

  23. Hugh

    Oops, that should read “haves against the have-nots”

  24. bruce wilder

    Willy: So where is all the talk coming from?

    well, let’s see, Willy, hmmm…

    armies of propagandists, steeped in the insights of Bernays, advise the politicians and the donor class of lobbyists and billionaires, generate the noise of propaganda and all the “serious” people suddenly know what to think.

    Hundreds of millions are being spent on carefully designed narrative b.s., clever lies and half-truths and these are broadcast and sublimated and “blow-up” on social media.

    It is planned, in a sense, driven forward by interested parties and indifferent algorithms. Pretty soon the U.S. is invading Iraq because Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, but there was all this talk and people believe Russia tipped the 2016 election with $100,000 in Facebook ads, half of which appeared after the election and Alex Jones is a YouTube hit! (Google never de-monetizes Google.)

    “Where is all the talk coming from?” Really? You have to ask?

  25. Willy

    What about the “good talk” which makes it through the gauntlet? AOC and Bernie and the squad do what they can, then the handful of (relatively poor) progressive bloggers, tubers, pundits and news sites etc… do what they can to make it a newsworthy issue for the more “leftist” of MSM reporters, pundits and agencies.

    Obviously, unofficial conservatives like Joe Manchin should be targeted for abuse. But then there are the many more obvious and corrupt official conservatives who seem ripe for the mocking.

  26. Willy

    bruce or anybody,

    Are you aware of a place where each DC representative is rated for partisanship, on a L-to-R scale, or some planar or 3D political matrix, or whatever system that’s easy to visualize? Extra credit points if the ratings include where historic figures might fall out.

  27. bruce wilder

    There are many “ratings” by interested parties, some public many not.

    Academic measures of polarization and radicalism like DW-Nominate try to measure the Congressional Parties ideologically.

    MLB fans — many of them at least — actually care about the integrity of the statistics and they are not faithfully clapping to keep Tinkerbell from fading away. Fans of partisan politics are more likely to be so addicted to news feeds that they accept whatever they are fed, excited by the stylings of Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow or other commentators who could care less, if you paid them to.

  28. Willy

    ESPN did shut down their comments because a minority of nutjobs were ruining them, at least in ESPNs opinion. Apparently, a single paid moderator would be far too expensive.

    The idea (my idea) is to try and remind the cable-cord-cut crowd of reality, and that the simplest, most-academic consensus model places authoritarianism at far left and far right, no matter what plutocrat-inspired pundits preach to a crowd which is too dumb to realize that “it’s all just entertainment”.

  29. different clue

    About us being only a couple of states away from a New Constitutional Convention, I have read that the Koch Brothers and ALEC and the Libertarian Upper Class front groups have been working on a Libertarian Consitution and have it all ready to go once enough states vote to have a Constitutional Convention.

    If that happens, we will get a New Kochstitution. And there’s your revolution.

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