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

Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – March 31, 2019

Strategic Political Economy

[Vox, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-19]

The most puzzling critiques have come not from Republicans, but from the center left, broadly speaking. They urge policies to reduce greenhouse gases that are perfectly commensurate with the GND framework … but present them as alternatives to the GND framework. (We’ll look at some examples later.)

The connecting theme, the message, sometimes implicit and sometimes explicit, is this: move more slowly. Accept piecemeal progress rather than a big thing. Don’t push beyond strict carbon policy into social or economic policy….

The only way Democrats can hope to pass any legislation — not big legislation, any legislation — is by radically shaking up the status quo balance of powers. That would mean getting rid of the filibuster, possibly granting statehood to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, reforming the electoral college and voting laws, and possibly expanding the Supreme Court.

Every piece of that reform agenda is big, risky, and unlikely to succeed, and at the end of it there would still be an enormous struggle over climate legislation (even getting 51 Democratic senators to be bold is a challenge). If you were in Vegas, you’d bet against any of this happening.

But let’s be clear: The alternative is not small, sensible, bipartisan steps, as so many pundits and pols are promising. The alternative is nothing. And on climate change, nothing means disaster. Those who would ask us to resign ourselves to disaster should, at the very least, frankly acknowledge the implications.

Incrementalism only works with willing partners on the other side, and there are none. (Emphasis in original)

This last is exactly what Brad DeLong said in an interview at the end of February: A Clinton-era centrist Democrat explains why it’s time to give democratic socialists a chance:

We were certainly wrong, 100 percent, on the politics. Barack Obama rolls into office with Mitt Romney’s health care policy, with John McCain’s climate policy, with Bill Clinton’s tax policy, and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy. He’s all these things not because the technocrats in his administration think they’re the best possible policies, but because [White House adviser] David Axelrod and company say they poll well.

And [Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel and company say we’ve got to build bridges to the Republicans. We’ve got to let Republicans amend cap and trade up the wazoo, we’ve got to let Republicans amend the [Affordable Care Act] up the wazoo before it comes up to a final vote, we’ve got to tread very lightly with finance on Dodd-Frank, we have to do a very premature pivot away from recession recovery to “entitlement reform.”
All of these with the idea that you would then collect a broad political coalition behind what is, indeed, Mitt Romney’s health care policy and John McCain’s climate policy and George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy.

And did George H.W. Bush, did Mitt Romney, did John McCain say a single good word about anything Barack Obama ever did over the course of eight solid years?
No, they fucking did not. No allegiance to truth on anything other than the belief that John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell are the leaders of the Republican Party, and since they’ve decided on scorched earth, we’re to back them to the hilt. So the politics were completely wrong, and we saw this starting back in the Clinton administration.

Today, there’s literally nobody on the right between those frantically accommodating Donald Trump, on the one hand, and us on the other.

Re: The Green New Deal: First, Shoot the Economists
CounterPunch 3-29-19 [via Jon Larson]

Not content with having acted as apologists for rapidly accumulating environmental crises, economists are now coming out of the woodwork to give their advice on the limitations of any transition program. In the first, the claim is that ‘we’ can’t afford one. In the second, it is that even if we could afford such a program, it would cause inflation. Both assertions proceed from the premise that Western capitalism is a neutral basis from which to proceed….

The affordability argument is a canard: capitalists have already absconded with the “profits” that make a Green New Deal necessary. These profits are either equal to or greater than the cost of cleaning up the environmental mess they created, or the totality of profits is less than their cost in terms of environmental destruction. In the prior, the Green New Deal is affordable. Capitalists have already proven it is by putting its costs in their own pockets. In the latter, three centuries of capitalist production have been a net loser once environmental costs are considered.

Economics as Cultural Warfare: The Case of Adam Smith

Tony Wikrent [Real Economics 3-28-19]

Adam Smith was the voice of the British establishment and the newly minted British commercial oligarchy which vehemently opposed the idea that the United States should attempt to be anything other than producers and suppliers of basic agricultural commodities.

by James K. Galbraith [American Affairs Journal, Volume II, Number 4 (Winter 2018): 79–86.]

Book review of Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics, by Robert Skidelsky (Yale University Press, 2018)

In the twentieth century, with the gold standard in retreat, Wicksell and Fisher developed the quantity theory of money—more precisely a quantity of money theory of inflation. What really mattered was not the substance of money but control over how much of it there was. Good control would keep prices stable and debts good. Monetarism, the descendant doctrine of Milton Friedman, would triumph at the Federal Reserve with the arrival of Paul Volcker in 1979, even though Volcker was not himself committed to the theory. Chaos and recession ensued, and monetarism was abandoned in the world debt crisis of 1982. Truly nothing changes and very little is learned, over centuries, in economics….

Skidelsky treats these great monetary battles primarily as struggles over ideas. Yet he is aware that behind ideas lie interests, and that the division of economic ideas into binary oppositions reflects the class opposition between creditors and debtors–one dominant and the other oppressed, but each always necessary to the existence of the other. The fact that ideas follow the interests that can pay for them accounts for much of the recurrence of spurious and indefensible ideas in economic thought. Skidelsky, however, is above all a historian of ideas, so this book is cast largely as an account of ideologies and intellectual debates and not of class struggles. There is no doubt, moreover, that some of the most meretricious zealots in the long history of economists’ service to power and wealth were also among the most fiendishly clever…. In the center and on the right, the field is peopled by pompous mediocrities occasionally exposed as such–as in the film Inside Job. They hold their positions only through the interlocking tribalism of American academic life….

But the facts point to an intractable problem: those whose attention cannot be shifted by the collapse of their own worldview are simply beyond reach. This is a problem for the universities, who are stuck with entire departments of stranded intellects, enclosed upon themselves, well-funded by outside sponsors, and a danger to the sound instruction of students and to the future of the world. In the decade since the financial crisis, not one so-called top economics department has hired a single senior professor who had accurately foretold the calamity to come. It should be evident, by this point, that this is not accidental.

[Asia Times, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-19]

The US quest to “contain” China is becoming a lonely one, and for good reasons. Pressuring allies to bar Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from their fifth-generation (5G) networks could set back their telecom architecture by at least a year or two and cost them billions of dollars. Preventing allies from joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is to demand that they ignore their national interests.

It might be for these reasons that four major European leaders – Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission – have defied US President Donald Trump’s warnings on Huawei and the BRI.

Climate and environmental crises

[Africa is a Country, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-19]

India’s Ban on Imports of Recyclables Generates A Global Crisis

[Asia Sentinel, via Naked Capitalism 3-25-19]

The March 6 decision by the Indian government to ban imports of plastic and mixed paper – like the decision a year earlier by China – has thrown the global recycling industry into a level of chaos that it is unlikely to recover from, demanding a new approach to the disposal of waste, including attempting to not produce it at all, or to design in recyclability.

As has been widely reported, the price of recyclables has fallen through the floor, with mountains of paper, plastic and other materials piling up in western countries, with no place to sell the scrap. It is increasingly clear that collection, sorting and reuse is no longer viable, if it ever was. The world generates about 1.3 billion tonnes of trash per year….

While the loss of the Chinese export markets disrupted recyclable markets, cutting revenues and depressing the combined recycling stream, it appears that the decision is spreading across the developing world, beyond China, India, Vietnam and Malaysia. This is starting to lead to the inability to sell recyclables at any price. Clearly the decades of shipping trash overseas are over. The west is learning that there is no longer an “away.”

That probably means an entirely different, urgent approach to waste management, starting with the responsibility of governments to manage the problem, forcing the producers of products that eventually end up as waste to take responsibility for what happens after they are discarded. Recycling will have to start with production.

[The Narwhale, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-19]

“The Arctic is warming up almost twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Several factors like thawing permafrost, shorter sea ice season, more severe storms, and rising sea level contribute to the increased rate of erosion along the Arctic coast. Moreover, the process produces massive amounts of sediment that in the long term may have negative impact on marine ecosystems along the coast.” • A moving story of one Arctic village subject to this process.

Big Banks Can Block Shareholder Climate Proposals, SEC Rules

[Climate Liability News, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-19]
[Green Finance Observatory, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-19]

“Carbon markets have spectaculary failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions for over a decade, and it has been demonstrated that they suffer from unresolvable conceptual issues, such as the inexistence of a reliable price signal.

Economics in the real world

3 cities in the U.S. have ended chronic homelessness: Here’s how they did it

[Fast Company, via The Big Picture 3-24-19]

Nine more have ended veteran homelessness. It’s part of a national program called Built for Zero that uses a data-based approach to help officials figure out exactly who needs what services. Now it’s accelerating its work in 50 more cities….

“By ending homelessness, we mean getting to a place where it’s rare, brief, and it gets solved correctly and quickly when it does happen,” says Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions, the nonprofit that leads the Built for Zero program. “That’s a completely achievable end state, we now see.”

One key to the process is data, and a visual dashboard that lets agencies track people experiencing homelessness in real time. In Abilene, with a population a little more than 120,000, for example, the city located every homeless veteran, gathered information about each individual situation, and stored this information in a “by-name list” that was continually updated. “It basically just forced us to continuously look to change improvements to our system, and how to use real-time data to improve our performance,” says John Meier, the program manager for supportive services for veteran families for the West Central Texas Regional Foundation….

Continuing to use real-time data helps the county identify new problems that are emerging; right now, for example, they’re seeing an uptick in both young people and seniors who are homeless. “The data is so important because by the time you know it’s a problem, it’s too late,” says Julia Orlando, director of the Bergen County Housing, Health and Human Service Center. “So if you can start seeing trends before it’s a really bad problem, you can start adjusting your policies or trying to get additional services in your facility to try to address that.” For example, they can now start planning to add skilled nursing care to their shelter and searching for different types of grants to support eldercare.

[Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-19]
Less-educated Americans born in the 1960s fare much worse than those born 20 years earlier due to wage changes, shorter life expectancy, and higher medical costs.
[People’s World, via North Carolina AFL-CIO 3-25-19]

The report, commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is from the non-profit Hedge Clippers campaign, an organization dedicated to investigating,
exposing and reining in the hedge funders’ financial machinations….

The pressure has come in the form of financiers’ threatened takeovers accompanying demands that GM send profits to stockholders and stock buybacks, rather than investing to modernize its factories. The recent plant closures are just the latest symptom of company yielding to the capitalists, the report adds.

No patient left behind

[Modern Healthcare, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-19]

Taken for a Ride: How Ambulance Debt Afflicts the Extreme Poor

[American Prospect, via Naked Capitalism 3-30-19]

During the 90s, the influencers said millions of lost jobs for the sake of free trade and globalization were worth it. Now, they tell us the loss of several hundred thousand jobs in the insurance industry for the sake of Medicare For All is intolerable.

The inventors of insulin sold their patent for a buck. Why is it so expensive?

[TreeHugger, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-19]

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

[New York Times (tiered subscription model), via American Wind Energy Association 3-27-19]

Wind and other renewables attract workers from a wide range of backgrounds, from former Marines like Jake Thompson, who now manages an Invenergy wind farm in Texas, to Chris Riley, whose family has worked in coal for generations but went on to co-found Guzman Energy. “I just feel we are really making a difference here,” says Lee Van Horn, manager of Avangrid Renewables’ Locust Ridge 1 and 2 in Pennsylvania.

US offshore wind capex could hit $70B by 2030
[Offshore Wind Journal (U.K.) (3/27), via American Wind Energy Association 3-27-19]

Building out the domestic offshore wind industry in seven states will likely require a capital expenditure of $70 billion by 2030, including turbine components, foundations, cables, marine support and other downstream needs, according to a Special Initiative on Offshore Wind white paper. “By putting in clear terms the anticipated demand for foundations, towers, cable and services, America’s energy supply and service companies can begin planning to enter this growing market,” says National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi.

North Carolina Senate bill would ban wind projects in many counties

[WFAE-FM (Charlotte, N.C.), via American Wind Energy Association 3-28-19]

The North Carolina Senate is considering a bill that would ban new wind development in all or part of many counties that have military bases or are used for related activities. The bill would unnecessarily hinder future wind projects because North Carolina already has some of the tightest permitting rules in the country, says North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association Executive Director Ivan Urlaub.

74% of US coal-generated electricity costs more than renewable electric
[The Hill (3/25), The Guardian (London), via American Wind Energy Association 3-26-19]

The majority of domestic coal-generated electricity — 74% — costs more to produce than electricity generated from wind and solar sources, reports research firm Energy Innovation. Falling wind and solar costs and progressive state policies will continue to drive coal closures without sacrificing grid reliability, but a federal policy would speed things along, says co-author Mike O’Boyle.

“Coal, oil, and natural gas demand hits record high in 2018” 
[Grist, via Naked Capitalism 3-27-19]

“Demand for coal, oil, and natural gas hit new all-time highs in 2018, according to a worrying new report from the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization that compiles statistics on global energy use…. The report provides further evidence that the world’s two biggest emitters, the United States and China, are choosing to switch from coal to natural gas, not coal to renewables. While natural gas is often touted as being lower in CO2 emissions than coal, it still releases plenty of CO2 as well as methane — an even more powerful greenhouse gas. The move could lock in decades of emissions…. China added more than six times the amount of renewable energy to its grid than the United States did — but even that is nowhere near enough to offset continued investment in fossil fuels.”

Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing at Trump Access
[Politico, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-19]

Gathered for a private meeting at a beachside Ritz-Carlton in Southern California, the oil executives were celebrating a colleague’s sudden rise. David Bernhardt, their former lawyer, had been appointed by President Donald Trump to the powerful No. 2 spot at the Department of the Interior.

“Stopping Human-Caused Air Pollution Would Prevent 5.6 Million Air Pollution Deaths Per Year: New Study” 

[Weather Underground (original), via Naked Capitalism 3-27-19]

 “If humans stopped emitting air pollution, an astonishing 5.6 million premature deaths per year due to global outdoor air pollution could be prevented, according to research published Monday. About 65% of these deaths are due to burning of fossil fuels, with the remainder due to such activities as biomass burning and agriculture. Eliminating human-caused air pollution would also significantly reduce drought in monsoon regions, but it would allow more sunlight to reach the surface, increasing Earth’s surface temperature by at least 0.36°C (0.65°F). Overall, the effects would be hugely beneficial.”

Restoring balance to the economy

[North Carolina AFL-CIO 3-25-19]

On March 12th, adjunct professors at Elon University voted by a 2-1 margin in a union election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board to exercise their freedom to join together in union with SEIU Workers United Southern Region.

Lawmakers, worker advocates push for doubling NC minimum wage to $15 an hour
[North Carolina AFL-CIO 3-25-19]

Boost the minimum wage in NC
[North Carolina AFL-CIO 3-25-19]
[North Carolina AFL-CIO 3-25-19]

Enemy Actions

Koch-Funded Group Scrubs Stephen Moore’s History Now That Trump Wants Him on the Fed
Pam Martens and Russ Martens, March 28, 2019 [Wall Street on Parade]

The Koch brothers funded front group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), has decided to scrub Stephen Moore’s history from its web site now that Donald Trump has proposed Moore to sit on the powerful central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Google caches of Moore’s extensive history with the organization now lead to error messages.

But we know that Moore has been a featured speaker at Americans for Prosperity events around the country since at least 2009 because attendees have posted photos of him speaking at the events and there are also YouTube videos of his speeches. In one YouTube video where Moore spoke at an Americans for Prosperity event in Tulsa, Oklahoma on April 14, 2016, he called AFP “a great, great organization” and said “I’ve been doing a lot of events around the country for AFP.”

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, are majority owners of the fossil fuels juggernaut known as Koch Industries. Moore’s ties to the Koch brothers and his papers, speeches and books posturing on topics near and dear to their hearts go back decades. Moore has also been an attendee and speaker at the semi-annual, super-secretive political strategy meetings organized by Charles Koch to tilt U.S. elections to the right. In the book Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty by Daniel Schulman, the author writes that at a June 27-28, 2010 event at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Colorado, Moore presented a talk titled “Understanding the Persistent Threats We Face.” That talk was tailored to please a bevy of Wall Street Masters of the Universe and old-money corporate heirs who were in attendance.

Stephen Moore, Trump’s Federal Reserve pick, is a tax scofflaw and supply-side snake-oil salesman

Joan McCarter [DailyKos 3-28-19]

As for what’s the matter with Kansas, yeah, Moore. He was instrumental in shaping the radical tax cuts plan former Gov. Sam Brownback implemented that resulted in years of serious budget shortfalls. He is a long-time friend and collaborator with Art Laffer, the economist credited with Brownback’s disaster rooted in the many-times disproven “trickle-down,” “supply side” theories that say deep tax cuts will save the world….


“Pilot: Can pilots trust Boeing again?” 

[CNN, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-19]

“For my fellow pilots, trust has been seriously eroded. Considering that Boeing did not include a detailed description of the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), the flight-control software that has been linked to both crashes, can pilots trust Boeing with any of its other products? They are right to ask, ‘What else is Boeing not telling me?’ Airline pilots are a skeptical bunch, an attribute that often defines our decision-making. It’s a good thing, especially in an emergency.” • The pilot forums, and our pilot commenters here, are impressive.

“Lack of redundancies on Boeing 737 MAX system baffles some involved in developing the jet” [Seattle Times, via Naked Capitalism 3-28-19]

Another blockbuster: “Boeing has long embraced the power of redundancy to protect its jets and their passengers from a range of potential disruptions, from electrical faults to lightning strikes. The company typically uses two or even three separate components as fail-safes for crucial tasks to reduce the possibility of a disastrous failure. So even some of the people who have worked on Boeing’s new 737 MAX airplane were baffled to learn that the company had designed an automated safety system that abandoned the principles of component redundancy, ultimately entrusting the automated decision-making to just one sensor — a type of sensor that was known to fail. Boeing’s rival, Airbus, has typically depended on three such sensors. ‘A single point of failure is an absolute no-no,’ said one former Boeing engineer who worked on the MAX, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about the program in an interview with The Seattle Times. ‘That is just a huge system engineering oversight. To just have missed it, I can’t imagine how.’”

FAA defends its reliance on aircraft makers to certify jets

[AP, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-19]

“Acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said [that] the agency would need 10,000 more employees and an additional $1.8 billion a year to do all the work now done by designated employees of the companies it regulates.”

Creating new economic potential – science and technology

Rolls-Royce Unveils Comprehensive Electric Power Plan
Guy Norris [Aviation Week & Space Technology 3-29-19]

From the world’s largest airborne generator to personal air vehicles, Rolls-Royce outlines its vision and goals for electrical power and propulsion.

“At what point does the technology become mature enough [to start using] it in markets such as small regional aircraft? As you move to the larger payloads, speeds and ranges, that is where we see hybrid-electric and more electric components. Whereas with smaller payloads, speed and range, we see all-electric as being more viable. In terms of a time line, this is probably over the next five years all the way to 25 or 35 years-plus.”

Engine-Makers Step Up Hybrid-Electric Work To Meet UAM Demand
Guy Norris [Aviation Week & Space Technology 3-28-19]

Many of the vehicle concepts under study for the coming wave of urban air mobility (UAM) are the size of today’s small helicopters, so it is perhaps no surprise that major propulsion players in the current vertical-lift market are laying out plans to compete for this next big opportunity.

With larger size comes the need for more power and, with battery technology still lagging, these future propulsion systems are focused on gas turbine-based hybrid-electric concepts rather than all-electric designs….

“In an eVTOL, the turbogenerator will run like an APU. You won’t have the pilot increasing or decreasing the power and so on. It will run constantly, and batteries will manage the transients and peak flows,” he says. “That is why we believe hybrid makes sense for electric propulsion, because we can optimize the turbogen and also optimize the battery. Today you can either configure the battery for peak demand or energy density, so we can have less power density because we have the [gas turbine] fuel, but we also have the battery to cover for peak demand.”

Are Seaplanes Electric? Harbour Air Thinks So
Graham Warwick [Aviation Week & Space Technology 3-27-19]

Harbour Air, North America’s largest seaplane airline, has partnered with motor developer MagniX to convert its fleet to electric propulsion. The companies plan to replace the radial piston engine in one of the airline’s de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers with the startup’s 750-hp electric motor. The “remotored” aircraft is expected to fly by the end of 2019 and will be used as the test aircraft for supplemental type certification (STC) of the conversion.

NASA Sees Science Potential For Lunar Gateway
Mark Carreau [Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, via Aviation Week & Space Technology 3-25-19]

HOUSTON—NASA has outlined a three-step strategy for achieving a sustained human return to the Moon’s surface by 2028, using partnerships forged with U.S. commercial as well as global space agency partners to first assemble a lunar-orbiting, human-tended Gateway.

Both the four-person gateway, assembly of which is to begin in 2022 and end in 2024, and new human surface explorations are to forge technologies for moving on to Mars.

[Railway Age 3-25-19]

The Port of New Orleans’ Seabrook Railroad Bridge is a double track Strauss heel trunnion bascule bridge, located in New Orleans, Louisiana. The project design and construction presented extraordinary challenges to engineers and contractors familiar with movable bridge construction. The circa 1923 bridge, due to severe deterioration of primary load carrying members necessitated the required repairs that included replacing the entire railroad floor system and truss bottom chords. The technical engineering aspects of the project had to meet the needs of the rail and marine interests by minimizing traffic interruptions and maintaining rail operations on the busy rail corridor.

Information Age Dystopia

This will devastate free discussion on the internet, and lead to a stranglehold by just a few giant companies within a few years. 

Under Article 11, text that contains more than a “snippet” from an article are covered by a new form of copyright, and must be licensed and paid by whoever quotes the text, and while each country can define “snippet” however it wants, the Directive does not stop countries from making laws that pass using as little as three words from a news story.

[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 3-28-19]

“Perhaps more than any other U.S. technology company, Amazon has come to resemble a conglomerate, with a growing presence in multiple markets.”

Amazon will pay $0 in taxes on $11,200,000,000 in profit for 2018

[Yahoo Finance, via North Carolina AFL-CIO 3-25-19]
[Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism 3-27-19]

“Chief Executive Officer Shantanu Narayen has upended Adobe’s business model and quietly transformed it into that of a marketing company. Adobe has been working full crank to track every interaction a consumer has with a brand: tallying her visits to a brick-and-mortar store and what she buys; using cookies to monitor her web activity and figure out how many devices she has; analyzing her interest in emails about sales or promotions; and incorporating social media monitoring to see what she says about a brand. Adobe can combine all of this with other companies’ data about a person’s income and demographics to try to predict the triggers that would make her buy a new phone or pair of shoes. In essence, Adobe is trying to know a consumer’s decision-making process better than she may know it herself.”

Disrupting mainstream politics

“Hellscape 2021: Why a Second Loss to Trump Could Produce an Existential Crisis for Democrats” Ed Kilgore [New York Magazine, via Naked Capitalism 3-25-19]

“Democrats spent months agonizing over how they lost to Donald Trump in 2016, with theories ranging from Clinton campaign incompetence to media hostility to sexism to James Comey’s unhelpful letters to sheer bad luck based on the distribution of a handful of votes in a few states. But a Democratic Party that manages to lose twice to Donald Trump — the second time after four years of the bizarre national experience of watching him in office — simply has to look at the donkey in the mirror.”

I agree totally with Lambert Strether, who commented: “The agony was not especially painful. Not only did the Democrats never produce a post mortem — suggesting that they think they really did nothing wrong — the common thread for all their “theories” was to blame somebody else. I think liberal Democrats have looked in the mirror and like what they see. That won’t change.”

Progressives Refuse to Back Down as DCCC Moves to Kneecap Primary Challengers

[Common Dreams, via Naked Capitalism 3-24-19]

[The Hill, via Naked Capitalism 3-25-19]

“The Economic and Social Roots of Populist Rebellion: Support for Donald Trump in 2016” (PDF) [Thomas Ferguson, Benjamin Page, Jacob Rothschild, Arturo Chang, and Jie Chen, Institute for New Economic Thinking,  via Naked Capitalism 3-26-19]  From 2018, still germane:

This paper critically analyzes voting patterns in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Using survey data from the American National Election Survey and aggregate data on Congressional districts, it assesses the roles that economic and social factors played in Donald J. Trump’s “Populist” candidacy. It shows the hollowness of claims that economic issues played little or no role in the campaign and that social factors such as race or gender suffice to explain the outcome. While agreeing that racial resentment and sexism were important influences, the paper shows how various economic considerations helped Trump win the Republican primary and then led significant blocs of voters to shift from supporting Democrats or abstaining in 2012 to vote for him. It also presents striking evidence of the importance of political money and Senators’ “reverse coattails” in the dramatic final result.

I Warned Early On Russiagate Would Help Trump. Now You Can See Why

Michael Tracey [Fortune, via Naked Capitalism 3-29-19]

But for those of us who recognized how vital it was that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies be met with a rational, evidence-based opposition—rather than one overtaken by conspiratorial frenzy—highlighting the glaring flaws in this story was unavoidably necessary. Sadly, our warnings largely fell on deaf ears.

Secretly Taped Audio Reveals Democratic Leadership Pressuring Progressive To Leave Race

Intercept 4-26-18

The secretly taped audio recording, released here for the first time, reveals how senior Democratic officials have worked to crush competitive primaries and steer political resources, money, and other support to hand-picked candidates in key races across the country, long before the party publicly announces a preference. The invisible assistance boosts the preferred candidate in fundraising and endorsements, and then that fundraising success and those endorsements are used to justify national party support. Meanwhile, opponents of the party’s unspoken pick are driven into paranoia, wondering if they are merely imagining that unseen hands are working against them.

Hoyer bluntly told Tillemann that it wasn’t his imagination, and that mobilizing support for one Democratic candidate over another in a primary isn’t unusual. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., chair of the DCCC, has a “policy that early on, we’d try to agree on a candidate who we thought could win the general and give the candidate all the help we could give them,” Hoyer told Tillemann matter-of-factly.

[Los Angeles Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism 3-26-19]

“In Nazi Germany, economic history shows us a rapid change in the distribution of income and the emergence of a managerial elite who obtained an outsized share of national income, not just the now-proverbial one percent, but the top 0.1 percent. These were Nazi Germany’s equivalent to today’s so-called “supermanagers” (to use Thomas Piketty’s now-famous term). This parallel with today’s neoliberal society calls for a closer examination of the place of supermanagers in both regimes, with illuminating and unsettling implications.”

Utah Senator Mike “Lunatic” Lee Has Lost His Damn Mind

On the left is Ronnie Ray-gun firing an assault rifle while riding a velociraptor, which, of course, is holding a USA flag as it conveys Saint Ronnie into the fervent imaginations of American conservatives. On the right is Senator Mike “Lunatic” Lee of Utah, who presented this, along with other bizarre pictures, on the floor of the US Senate to bolster his argument that it’s actually proponents of a Green New Deal who have lost their minds. 

How the Church Left Depoliticizes DSA Branche

Benjamin Studebaker [via Naked Capitalism 3-27-19]

This was not good enough for Purdue YDSA. They voted against endorsing James. A Purdue student who attended the meeting tells me that one of the members went on a long tangent about the fact that West Lafayette was once a Sundown Town, i.e. a town in which African-Americans were not permitted after dark, and wanted to know how James would prevent something like this from happening again. Another member reportedly wanted James to explain what he was going to do to confront white supremacy as an ideology, independent and distinct from economic policies. They didn’t seem to have any specific ideas for James to take up. As this student put it: “they were basically just requests for him to performatively express how anti-racist and deferential to PoC he is.” The student, understandably, wants their name withheld, because within DSA circles dissent is often met with doxxing, ostracism, and other forms of abuse.

Purdue YDSA didn’t endorse James not because they disagreed with his policies but because he wasn’t using the language and conceptual framings to which these members are accustomed. They’re not willing to help the people of West Lafayette get affordable housing or a universal bus service unless the person attempting to deliver these things talks like them.

….DSA is a social club, where they meet up with other people from the same educational background and social class to critique and complain about the society in which they live. They get together and have discussions about how to have discussions about white supremacy and patriarchy and all the phobias and they never do a damn thing for anybody. It’s like the discussions church groups have about how to get teens to practice abstinence. The people talking about these things feel like they’re participating in a moral cause, but everyone knows abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Its purpose is to make the people who go to churches feel like they’re part of something, and nothing more. For churches, the best thing about abstinence-only education is that because it accomplishes nothing, they can keep trying to do it forever, uniting their congregations around tilting at windmills that never come down.

These people are looking for community. They aren’t looking to make a difference. Their feelings and the discourse that gives them pleasure are more important to them than the needs of the most vulnerable. And they prove this, every single time they withhold endorsement from the candidates who actually care and are actually trying. If the left should fail again in 2020, these are the people who will have made it so. They don’t run for stuff, they don’t endorse the people who run for stuff, they don’t work for the people who run for stuff, and their feckless indifference aids and abets the centrist and right-wing forces that are ruining this country.


Economics as Cultural Warfare: The Case of Adam Smith


Joe Biden’s Touching Problem


  1. bruce wilder

    Interesting that the split in the ranks of the left-liberal side of American politics — the Democratic Party and its adjuncts and more or less sympathetic critics — gets taken up at the beginning with establishment Dems clinging to their politics of status quo complacency, and, too, at the end, with Benjamin Studebaker taking a potshot at a DSA local too preoccupied with the rituals of identity politics to make common cause on policy.

    When does the split become a genuine re-alignment?

  2. bruce wilder

    the link to James K. Galbraith’s review of Skildelski’s book, Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics (2018) was much appreciated.

    Your quotation from the review presents an interesting picture of the war of ideas:

    The fact that ideas follow the interests that can pay for them accounts for much of the recurrence of spurious and indefensible ideas in economic thought. Skidelsky, however, is above all a historian of ideas, so this book is cast largely as an account of ideologies and intellectual debates and not of class struggles. There is no doubt, moreover, that some of the most meretricious zealots in the long history of economists’ service to power and wealth were also among the most fiendishly clever…. In the center and on the right, the field is peopled by pompous mediocrities occasionally exposed as such—as in the film Inside Job. They hold their positions only through the interlocking tribalism of American academic life….

    It left me, wondering, “. . . and on the left ? ? ?” what? warmed-over Marxism a hundred years past its sell-by date?

    The center-left half of the scholarly dialectic in academic economics is remarkably weak-minded, but receives very little fire from Galbraith, beyond a swipe at Krugman for clinging to IS/LM analysis (which swipe is given an inside baseball flavor in the style of Galbraith’s reference).

    It is almost as if the left half of neoliberalism gets paid to validate the right, and while scorning the farther right loudly for popular audiences, nevertheless leave the farther right unmolested in their positions of status and authority. Left-neoliberal will scorn zombie ideas in economics, but seem remarkably ill-equipped to refute them or replace them. Galbraith hints at this dynamic — or at least I read a bit of that into what he has written — but it deserves more attention.

  3. Hugh

    Various takes: Centrist is code for conservative, as is bipartisan. Center left = standard neoliberal of the Hillary Clinton “you can’t have nice things” variety. Along these lines, incrementalism is just a recasting of Clintonian triangulation.

    I always think it is funny that Brad DeLong counts as a thought leader for pointing out things about Obama that some of us who are “slower” off the mark pointed out ten years ago before Obama even became President.

    The argument we should be making on addressing climate change and universal single payer healthcare is not that we can’t afford to do them but that we can’t afford not to do them. Can you imagine Congress after Pearl Harbor declaring that WWII would be simply too expensive to wage, not to mention all the hearings that would be needed before anything was done?

    Didn’t we alrady know that economists are the paid lackeys of the powers that be?

    I think the European thinking on Huawei should be seen through a neoliberal lens. Merckel, Macron and company don’t care if the Chinese use Huawei to spy on their 5G networks. They intend to, the US and 5 Eyes will. So why not the Chinese? I have to admit I can’t to get worked up China’s Belt and Road or its other imperial projects, given that most of the states and economies tied into it are going to collapse in the next few decades due to climate change and overpopulation.

    The US should set up a public corporation to manufacture generic and orphan drugs and vaccines. I think there are a few states which are already moving in this direction. Big Pharma has a whole host of scams to keep prices high by changing formulation (how many times a day), adding a methyl group here or there, being a sole manufacturer of (penicillin) or controlling the delivery system (Epipen), and of course, prohibiting Medicare from negotiating drug prices.

    There are only something like 52,700 coal mining jobs in the whole of the US. This is out of a total of 126 million private sector jobs in February.

    Does anyone appreciate the irony of the fact that Stephen Moore is considered too whack, too bought and paid for, to sit among the other neoclassical/neoliberal hacks at the Fed?

    Amazon was built on tax avoidance, crappy labor practices, and market hype. The EU is anti-democratic and the proposed copyright changes are just more of the same.

    “Ocasio-Cortez: Removing Trump from office won’t fix country’s [or the Democrats’] problems”. Ding!

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