Monday, April 29, 2013

Bruce Wilder 04.28.13 at 5:36 pm

William Timberman: Paul Krugman is a likeable guy, but for me, at least, he’s not the herald of any plausible salvation.

Indeed. Because he has a certain nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s America he grew up in (something I’ve been accused of, as well), and because he has considerable integrity, people often seem to miss the fact that he’s pretty much a conventional neoliberal. (That Nobel makes it difficult to credibly point out that he’s not much of an economist, but he’s not.) Roger Nowosielski needs to look no further, if he wants an answer to his question, “Who could possibly labor under such an illusion, do tell?”

The liberal / social democratic state of the 1950s and 1960s, was designed by a generation, which had experienced life under the “malefactors of great wealth”, who had stolen for themselves the product of the Second Industrial Revolution, creating the Gilded Age in America and the Proud Towers of European Empires. And, they were able to do it, because the massive failures of the Great Depression and two World Wars had made political solidarity a dominant fact of political life, imposing egalitarian values and the potential for mass political participation that made social welfare a purpose of government.

Quiggin’s memorial to WWI gave rise to a thread, which demonstrated how little people fathom the “social tension” (as one insightful commenter put it), which existed between proprietary government by hereditary, feudal aristocracy, and the rising forces of mass political solidarity in the form of nationalism.

I suppose, as philosophies, liberalism and social democracy have always had an ambiguous relationship with nationalism and political solidarity, embracing it in some circumstances, where the drama was appealing, and rejecting it in others, when the stink of the unwashed body politic rose up in racist sentiments or populist authoritarianism. A deep ambivalence, and reluctance to take responsibility for logical consequences, figured in some of the greatest tragedies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Reconstituting the Turks into a liberal democratic secular national state was going to require getting rid of a lot of Greeks and Armenians, and that was not going to be pretty. Manifest Destiny wasn’t going to be pleasant for the American Indian.

The secular decline in felt needs for social affiliation in the U.S. has reached a remarkable extreme. As the title of a book on the subject put it, we are bowling alone. That trend has opened up the possibility of realizing liberal ideals of tolerance and an embrace of diversity as a virtue, which I, personally, find admirable and hopeful. But, it makes it difficult to know how to organize a mass response, to elite depredations. What are our common bonds? What does it mean to merge identities into a mass group, and act in concert? To join a team, a club, let alone to join a union?

It is psychologically difficult, and painful, to admit that the great and powerful are out to get you, that you are not safe in society, that the police work for The Man, and the The Man is not nice or fair. It is a natural legacy of childhood, to deny the incompetence of parents, by extension, authority figures. And, yet, here we are, in 2013, and the elite are openly building a police state, and eating the economy alive from the bottom-up. In the last recession, 5% of the labor force was simply thrown away, and in the recovery — well the recovery only happened for the 1% (strictly speaking, it seems to have extended down to include about 7%, but I’m being poetical), everyone else is experiencing an erosion of wages. For the bottom 50%, nutrition and life expectancy are declining. The social contract has become very much like the “contract” that accompanies a Bank’s credit card — something entirely made up, and changed at will and without notice, by the Bank, to benefit the Bank, but who is willing to take up negotiating from the other side of the table, to insist that there be another side to the table, that there be a table and a negotiation?

Saying it isn’t enough, because there’s no there, there, . . . yet. No political solidarity upon which to found an organization for concerted action. It certainly isn’t going to occur in the twitterverse or on Facebook, those fishbowls designed for the police state to monitor.

Bruce Wilder 04.28.13 at 6:19 pm

The array of viewpoints on what might be termed, the decline of civilization, which is the product of the stasis imposed along with oppression and the net loss of total product associated with moving away from mutually beneficial social contracts, is, inevitably, going to be jarringly broad and diverse. One of the more annoying conceits (to me) of people leaning left is the presumption that we are all going to be able to reason ourselves toward a unified consensus. American liberals cannot accept that they cannot have political power, without making a durable alliance with people, for whom populist appeals make sense — their natural allies are the Fox News audience! Lots of people on the left are committed to local-ism, which might be a start on recovering community and commons, or a distraction — thinking you can solve the problems of the world by home gardening. One of the more jarring things I read yesterday was an article in the Wall Street Journal about the retirement of the bloodthirsty reactionary, Donald Kagan — definitely worth reading as a challenge to one’s sense of reality.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Bruce Wilder 04.27.13 at 3:57 pm

lupita @ 27: “R&R should not be judged on their interpretation of past data but on their ability to make data move in the future. . . .”

I think lupita nails it.

Their use of history pretends to be clinical, but is crafted to be useful propaganda. They aim to change the world, not to understand it.

In the history of economic ideas, their work is the latest, ironic counterpoint from the Right, of Abba Lerner’s earnest idealism and naïve confidence of 50 years ago. Post-WWII Keynesians thought that liberal and social democratic government could manage the macroeconomy, ameliorating or eliminating the business cycle, lifting all boats kumbaya. Friedman challenged their naïveté as arrogance, alternatively, denying wholesale that the economy needed to be managed at all (a fairly obvious lie), and suggesting that attempts to manage it were likely to cause bigger problems than they solved (a slightly more subtle lie). Conservative macroeconomics (e.g. the New Classicals) elaborated on the first lie; Public Choice elaborated the second lie, into a rhetorical framework in which the state, captive to private interests, is the root of all evil.

The response from the Left in the U.S. and Western Europe to the rise of these conservative critiques has been a steady retreat into neoliberalism. Fiscal policy too clumsy; monetary policy can do it all (and make millionaires into billionaires, which is surely pareto-improving, no?). The regulatory state too “burdensome” for the Right and too “captured” for the Left? Deregulate! What could go wrong?

So, now, here we are, in the wreckage of the post-GFC economy, wrought by neoliberal policy. Wondering about the academic “ethics” of Rogoff and Reinhart. Those two know who holds the butter knife, and they are getting their bread buttered. Anyone, who thinks any slander or libel of their methods or motives, however well-justified, is going to touch them, has no theory of economics or politics.

The idiocy, here, is on the Left, or on that part of the Left, which still insists that “austerity” is a “bad idea”, a mistake (as if R & R did not know how to code a spreadsheet), and the struggle of politics over policy is a war of ideas, about what policy “idea” would best further the common good.

The parlous state of the post-Democratic centre-left of liberals and erstwhile social democrats is the end result of 50 years of losing battles in this war of ideas, because they could not face the reality of the Right’s narrow ambition, to promote the good of the few and the rich and the already powerful at the expense of the many. Behind the front of this war of ideas, behind the pretense of a debate over means to pursue the common good, is the reality of a rising and selfish class, determined to make the world safe for domination. To rule and ruin, as complementary strategic objectives.

If the centre-Left, the moderates of good will, have few ideas and fewer options in our Post-Democracy, it is because they cannot seem to face the reality of a politics of class war, of a reality, where the typical business leader is a vicious, selfish, out-of-control thug, and the purpose of winning elections is to get control of the state, so you or he can use the power of the state.

There is much hand-wringing among the chattering classes on the Left about the “problem” of Inequality, as if the unequalness of income distribution is the problem, and not that so much of the economy is founded on active and aggressive parasitism and predation.

The problems of climate change, overpopulation, and peak oil loom over everything, and the Left thinks the Right is in denial. Oh, yes, the Left pridefully declares its own consciousness superior, but argues pointlessly with climate change deniers and propagandists for fracking as salvation. As if Mr. Halliburton, Dick Cheney, might have been in denial or misinformed about the implications of Peak Oil, fifteen years ago. The Titanic has hit the iceberg, and those in first class have broken into the safe and are loading the gold and jewels into their lifeboats, while the liberals and social democrats debate whether there’s any acceptable policy options for passing scraps of day-old bread to those trapped in steerage and about to drown.

Until those on the centre-Left can accept the premise that their opponents on the Right do not share an interest in the common good, there will never be any clarity in our political struggles or debates.

(And, yes I know this isn’t the Post-Democracy thread, but these ideas came together for me, here, prompted by lupita’s insight.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hugh says:
April 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm

All the major economic zones: the US, China, Europe, and Japan have been showing weakness for months to years.

Lambert wrote about narratives yesterday. In the world economy and national economies, we have one narrative of business as usual. We have hit a rough patch but are working, slowly, through it.

Against this, we have kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war. We have neoliberalism. We have the two economies, one real, one paper, Richard Kline points to above.

We always need to keep in mind and be able to differentiate between what we are told is going on and what is actually happening. It is all very schizophrenic.

Take the news –please. Sorry, couldn’t help myself. I no longer watch the news for the news. I watch it to see what the current propaganda lines are and try to work out where they are headed. The only news I get in the news comes after I unpack all the propaganda, see what’s left and apply my own analysis to it. And fairly often even when I do this, it is only later that I realize that there were one or two propaganda lines I missed.

I say all this because I realize how easy it is to get led off on tangents. The truth is we can not fix bits and pieces of the system until we are willing to fix the system as a whole. We can not fix pensions, long term unemployment, or anything else within the structure of the current kleptocratic economy. Just look at the history of the last few years. What has been fixed? Nothing, at least from the 99%’s point of view. And nothing will be fixed.

2008 established the pattern for anyone who was weak on the concept of kleptocracy. The rich and elites, our ruling classes in other words, looted the economy into a crash. Then they looted the crash. Now we see, even after all the bailouts going to the rich and corporations, further weakening in the economy. More recession, another crash somewhere in the offing, does anyone think that these won’t be looted too? And that the pattern will repeat itself until we stop it?


mmckinl says:
April 22, 2013 at 4:45 am

What we are seeing is an attempt by the banksters to recapitalize the wealthy, corporations and the banks while at the same time deal with peak oil production and the inevitable economic contraction that peak oil production initiates.

What we see is the managing of this economic decline to the advantage of the elites. Rather than right off trillions in bad debt owned by the elites they will make good on that debt through austerity and under-reporting inflation …

They are managing this economic decline by misreporting stats for the banks and the economy. You will notice that these economic air pockets will coalesce around heavy oil demand. So far they have reduced Brent to around $100. Now it will be their job to once again restart what growth they can.

We will see this scenario play out year after year until it just doesn’t work anymore and financial chaos takes place at which time they will institute fascism and a police state to secure their power … We have already seen the loss of rights and the implementation of militarized local law enforcement.

Sunday, April 07, 2013


Reasons for optimism

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I was amused to find this on Unfogged:


To trivialize your competitors, see them defunded before you, and to hear the lamentations of their grad students!

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 2-13 8:40 PM

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