Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category


“Perhaps, if the existence of an evil being were allowed, who, in the allegorical language of scripture, went about seeking whom he could devour, he could not more effectually degrade the human character than by giving a man absolute power.

“. . . birth, riches, and every extrinsic advantage that exalt a man above his fellows without any mental exertion sink him in reality below them. In proportion to his weakness, he is played upon by designing men, till the bloated monster has lost all traces of humanity.”

–Mary Wollstonecroft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women

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(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from January 2014. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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by Chaz Bufe, editor See Sharp Press

Let’s get one thing straight right now: I’m not questioning the good intentions of those who join the U.S. military. The vast majority almost certainly do so for very understandable reasons.

At the same time, respect for the individuals who comprise the military is not the same as worship of the military, which is almost a state religion in the United States. It’s nearly all pervasive, from Fox “News” to liberal pundits  (Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert, Michael Moore) to every craven baseball announcer (in other words, almost all of them). The reasons for this military butt kissing are obvious: 1) to create and maintain conformism with its us-versus-them mentality; 2) to confuse military worship with patriotism; and 3)  to make discussion of the size and role of the military taboo, “unpatriotic.”

But what of those who serve in that military? Why do they do so? And are they heroes simply because they do so?

The primary reason that most young people enlist is almost certainly that they’re economic draftees. Real unemployment (counting the “underemployed” and “discouraged workers”) is approximately twice the official rate of 7.0%. On top of that, the black unemployment rate is more than twice the rate of whites, with hispanics falling in between: 6.2% white; 12.5% black; 8.7% hispanic; with teenage unemployment at 20.8% (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). And the employment situation is in reality even worse than that: the percentage of adults aged 18 to 65 either working or actively seeking work is at a historic low, only 63%.

Then realize that wages in this country are so low that it’s nearly impossible even for those who have jobs to get ahead. Real hourly wages hit their high point in the U.S. in 1973, and have fallen about 15% since then; productivity per hour worked has doubled over the same period. And during the current “recovery,” a large majority of new jobs are low-wage jobs.

So, it’s virtually impossible for young people to work their way through college (if they can find jobs), and their families simply can’t afford to send them. The cost of college tuition rose roughly 300%, three times faster than the cost of living, over the last 35 years–far higher even than the increase in the cost of health care. As a result the percentage of college graduates in the 25 to 34 age group in the U.S. fell to sixteenth in the world in 2012, with the U.S. seeming to fall further behind with every passing year. And those who do graduate from college in the U.S. are often burdened with crushing debt well up into the tens of thousands of dollars–debt which, thanks to the U.S. Congress, they cannot discharge through bankruptcy.

So, is it any wonder that many “volunteers” in the U.S. military enlist simply because they have no good economic or academic alternatives?

The second reason Americans enlist in the military is that a great many believe that they’re “protecting America” or “protecting freedom.” But is this at all realistic?

The first and most obvious question here is “protecting” against what?

The U.S. has been the world’s sole superpower for over two decades, and has a military presence in over 100 countries and on all continents except Antarctica. Since the War of 1812, U.S. territory has been invaded exactly once: two remote Aleutian islands invaded in 1942 by the Japanese–twice if you count Pancho Villa’s border raid on Columbus, New Mexico in 1916. In the same period, to name only instances that immediately come to mind, the U.S. has invaded Mexico (seizing half of its territory), Cuba, the Philippines, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That’s some “defense” there, Bubba.

Who does this benefit? Certainly not the American people. The U.S. spends more on its military than the next ten countries combined; the U.S. military budget was $682 billion in 2013, and that doesn’t count the “black budget” nor veterans benefits nor interest on loans taken out to finance previous military spending. This means that the U.S. government spends over $10,000 on the military annually for every American family of four.

So, again, who does this massive military spending benefit? Certainly not American soldiers. They’re the ones in harm’s way (4500 dead in Iraq, over 2000 so far in Afghanistan–with tens of thousands physically wounded, and quite probably far more bearing psychological wounds: approximately 5,000 current or former members of the U.S. military commit suicide every year). And their wages are often so low that their families end up on food stamps.

The ones who benefit from massive military spending and military intervention are the transnational (not U.S.) corporations that have no loyalty to anyone or anything other than their bottom lines. The U.S. military essentially operates as security, as muscle, for these corporations as they siphon profits from the rest of the world.

The words of former U.S. Marine Corps Commandant, Major General Smedley Butler are still pertinent after eight decades:

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active service in the country’s most agile military force, the Marines. I served in all ranks from second lieutenant to major general. And during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….

War is a racket, possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious… Out of war a few people make huge fortunes, nations acquire additional territory (which is promptly exploited by the few for their own benefit), and the general public shoulders the bill–a bill that renders a horrible accounting of newly placed gravestones, mangled bodies, shattered minds, broken hearts and homes, economic instability, and back-breaking taxation of the many for generations and generations.

How would you describe those whose lives and physical and mental health are sacrificed in such service? Or simply all those who put on the uniform? Heroes? All of them?

Those who indiscriminately use this term cheapen it; they use it as a propaganda term to stifle dissent. If all members of the military are heroes, their acts are also heroic. And who wants (or dares) to protest against those who order “heroic” acts?

Reserve the term “heroes” for those who deserve it–those who commit out-of-the-ordinary, genuinely heroic acts. The term simply doesn’t fit all those who are cynically used and discarded by the government and the corporations it serves.


(Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow. Macmillan, 2017, 379 pp., $26.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

In Walkaway, Cory Doctorow takes on one of the most vexing matters of our time: Automation (more broadly, technological advances) is, at an accelerating rate, making human labor ever less necessary.

But what will it lead to?

A post-scarcity, egalitarian, “to each according to their wants” economy of abundance in which working is a matter of choice? Or to a version of the present artificial-scarcity economy in which there are an army of the poor and oppressed, and a few super-rich individuals who will resort to anything to retain their positions of power and privilege?

In Walkaway, the answer is both. In Doctorow’s medium-near future, there’s both a drastically more repressive version of current society — to alter the famous quotation from Lincoln Steffens, “I have seen the future, and it’s worse” — and a (small “l”) libertarian and egalitarian alternative built by those who “walk away” from the dominant “default” society, a “post-scarcity” alternative made possible by sweeping technological/productivity advances.

Therein lies the main virtue of Walkaway: Doctorow’s convincing, detailed, and attractive portrayal of that post-scarcity society and its workings.

To get a bit politically wonkish, what Doctorow describes, though he never uses the term, is an anarcho-communist society (in contrast to the other flavors of anarchism: individualist, mutualist, and syndicalist).

Other virtues include Doctorow’s insightful treatment of technological advances, notably in the liberatory and repressive possibilities they entail, and in the book’s humor, which mostly appears in its first 150 pages.

One of the main points Doctorow makes in support of a post-scarcity, egalitarian societal set-up is that meritocracy, in both authoritarian capitalist society and in libertarian alternatives, is a very bad idea, as the following dialogue between two of Doctorow’s characters, Gretyl and Iceweasel, illustrates:

“Your people are all fighting self-serving bullshit, the root of all evil. There’s no bullshit more self-serving than the idea that you’re a precious snowflake, irreplaceable and deserving . . .”

“I’ve heard all this. My dad used it to explain paying his workers as little as he could get away with, while taking as much pay as he could get away with. . . .”

“You’re assuming that because [the rich] talk about meritocracy, and because they’re full of shit, merit must be full of shit. It’s like astrology and astronomy: astrology talks about orbital mechanics and so does astronomy. But astronomers talk about orbital mechanics because they’ve systematically observed the sky, built falsifiable hypotheses from observations, and proceeded from there. Astrologers talk about orbital mechanics because it sounds sciencey and helps them kid the suckers.”

“You’re calling my dad an astrologer then?”

“That would be an insult to astrologers.”

Two other notable aspects of Walkaway are the full-spectrum sexual diversity of the characters, and that Doctorow includes two explicit, well written sex scenes. (This is in stark contrast to the usual, annoying avoidance of such scenes in the vast majority of science fiction novels, where disgustingly graphic depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but — horrors! — not graphic depiction of sex; the only other sci-fi authors I can think of who include explicit, fitting sex scenes in their work are Richard K. Morgan and Walter Mosley.)

As for the plot, it would give away too much to say more than that it revolves around the brutal repression of the walkaways, and their use of nonviolent resistance in response, after they develop a technology that the ultra-rich of “default” society find threatening.

The description of this conflict takes up more than two-thirds of the book, which is likely too much of it. In too many places, the latter portions of Walkaway drag. After reading the first 225 or so pages, I found myself wondering when it would ever end; I kept reading only because I wanted to see how Doctorow would resolve the conflict between the walkaways and “default.”

Anther problem with the book is that it seems disjointed at times. This is in part due to Doctorow’s using five p.o.v. characters. This isn’t necessarily a problem (see George Turner’s effective use of multiple [five] p.o.v.s in Drowning Towers), but it is here. Doctorow switches from one to another purely to advance the story, with the amount of time devoted to the different p.o.v.s varying considerably; and, as Walkaway progresses, it all but abandons the p.o.v. of what I originally thought was the primary p.o.v. character.

It doesn’t help that there’s little if any overlap — no differing views of the same things, a la Rashomon — in the events described from the different p.o.v.s, which aggravates the disjointedness problem.

Still, Walkaway‘s virtues — especially it’s detailed, attractive portrayal of a libertarian post-scarcity society — outweigh its faults.

Walkaway is quite probably the best fictional description of a post-scarcity society ever written.

Recommended.

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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, and on an unrelated sci-fi novel, in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


“[T]here aren’t any ‘jobs’ left. Just financial engineering and politics. I’m not qualified for either. For one thing, I can’t say ‘meritocracy’ with a straight face. . . . It’s the height of self-serving circular bullshit, isn’t it? We’re the best people we know, we’re on top, therefore we have a meritocracy. How do we know we’re the best? Because we’re on top. QED? The most amazing thing about ‘meritocracy’ is that so many brilliant captains of industry haven’t noticed that it’s made of such radioactive bullshit that you could spot it in orbit.”

–“Hubert, etc.” in Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway

(review coming soon)


With one of the most painful years in memory behind us, and an upcoming year that seems certain to be worse, it’s time to imagine a better world:

  • Imagine if people were responsible, self-directed adults who thought for themselves rather than followers who abdicate their responsibilities by worshiping power-grubbing sociopaths and their sacred texts (both religious and political).
  • Imagine if religious and political true believers had a live-and-let-live attitude rather than believing that they have the right, or even the duty, to impose their beliefs on others.
  • Imagine if people knew how to reason logically and allowed evidence to determine their conclusions rather than engaging in wishful thinking while ignoring inconvenient facts.
  • Imagine a world in which there wasn’t an inverse relationship between the usefulness of work and pay for it, a world in which those who do the dirtiest, most necessary work — farm workers, childcare workers, garbage collectors — were the highest paid, and parasitic hedge fund managers, day traders, and lobbyists weren’t paid at all.
  • Imagine if people wanted to hear original music or see original artwork rather than hearing or seeing things they’ve heard or seen ten thousand times before.
  • Imagine a world in which justice wasn’t a term of vicious mockery (as in “equal justice under the law”).
  • Imagine a world in which social isolation wasn’t the norm, in which architecture, housing design and patterns, the transportation system, and the economic system reduced social isolation rather than fostered it.
  • Imagine if the Ten Commandments prohibited slavery, torture, and subjugation of women rather than swearing, worshiping graven images, and thought-crime (coveting thy neighbor’s wife or ox).
  • Imagine if no one thought they were better than other people simply because they’re “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people.”
  • Imagine a world in which some people didn’t make money by locking other people in cages.
  • Imagine if ethical conduct in business didn’t put you at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Imagine a society based on cooperation, voluntary association, and mutual aid rather than coercion, economic inequality, economic insecurity, and frantic accumulation of material goods (at any cost — to others).
  • Imagine an economic system that didn’t provide constant temptation to lie to and to cheat others in the pursuit of profit.
  • Imagine if the Catholic, Mormon, and other churches prohibited their members from breeding like rabbits rather than commanding them to worsen the population problem.
  • Imagine if the churches emphasized the Golden Rule rather than punishment of those who transgress their “moral” dictates.
  • Imagine if the churches’ concept of morality wasn’t focused on controlling the private sex lives of consenting adults  and instead focused on reducing harm to others.
  • Imagine if the Democratic Party was actually democratic.
  • Imagine if Donald Trump was a compassionate, ethical human being.
  • Imagine (and I know this is a stretch) that America really was the land of the free.

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you. Donald Trump has already begun to betray the people who elected him, both the racist wingnuts and those driven by economic despair.

He’s recently indicated that he won’t build a wall along the entire Mexican border (an impossibility because, among other things, the Tohono O’odhams down here in Pima County won’t let him do it on their nation–their lands extend on both sides of the border), and he’s also indicated that he’ll try to reach an accommodation with the “dreamers,” non-citizens who were brought here as children, rather than deport them en masse.

As for the people devastated by deindustrialization and the recession, Trump has raised his middle finger in salute, appointing a former Goldman Sachs executive as his Secretary of the Treasury and another as head of the National Economic Council (NEC). Revealingly, Gary Cohn, the NEC appointee, was a Hillary Clinton donor. That’s not all that surprising given that Trump is surrounding himself with Clinton backers and members of Clinton’s economic team.

And all this after he slammed Hillary Clinton for taking a $5000-a-minute speaking fee from Goldman Sachs. (Nice “work” if you can get it.)

Beyond that, Trump just appointed as Secretary of Labor a fast food exec, Andrew Puzder (yes, a real name), whose firms have been accused of wage theft and who thinks the minimum wage is too high. (Reportedly, Puzder will advocate for a system of agricultural settlements in which displaced workers will work in exchange for food they raise themselves and cabins they themselves build, under the guidance of kindly overseers.)

Those who voted for Trump hoping for economic improvement in their lives are in for some rude shocks.


Back in April, I wrote a post titled “Hillary Clinton is all but Unelectable (against any sane opponent).” It turns out she couldn’t even beat an insane opponent.

Four days ago, I wrote another post: “If Clinton loses, who’s to blame?” focusing on the betrayal of low-income working people by the corporate-servant Democrats (Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, Donna Brazile, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Diane Feinstein, et al.) who’ve controlled the Democratic Party for decades.

Clinton’s water carriers will undoubtedly dismiss such analyses and will instead focus on such things as corporate money in politics, the Republican propaganda machine (Fox, Breitbart, Infowars, etc.), and Trump’s racial scapegoating. You’ll see plenty of these in-part-correct analyses in the days to come.

You’ll also see plenty of pieces by Clinton apologists drawing all the wrong conclusions about Clinton’s defeat. For a spectacular example of such wrong-headed analysis, see “The Misogyny Apocalypse” by Clinton cheerleader extraordinaire, Amanda Marcotte.

Rather, I’d argue that you can’t screw people economically for decades,  make it harder and harder for their children to attend college, ridicule them, and then pretend that you’re their friend. There are consequences for this type of behavior. Meet President Trump.

I’ve covered these matters extensively in posts over the last few years–just check the Economics category and search the site for posts on Obama and Clinton–so let’s let this go for now and examine what might happen under the Trump administration.

First the negative:

Immigration. Trump based his campaign on racism and anti-immigrant scapegoating. Here, unfortunately, he’s likely to deliver. Obama has been “the deporter in chief.” Trump will be worse, probably far worse.

Taxation. Trump wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%, reduce individual income taxes across the board, and eliminate the estate tax. These things will lead to massive deficits (similar measures did under Bush the Lesser).

Global Warming. Trump is, at least publicly, a climate-change denier. Expect no action in this area.

Environment. Expect more air pollution, more water pollution, less regulation (including food-quality regulation — lack of which is already a national scandal), more fracking, more despoliation of public lands, especially in the West.

Supreme Court. One can only shudder at what’s to come here: corporate-friendly, anti-individual-rights, religious extremists (a la Scalia and Alioto).

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, “Obamacare”: Trump made repeal of “Obamacare” a centerpiece of his campaign. Expect grossly inadequate measures in its place (“competition across state lines,” individual health savings accounts, vouchers), expect millions to lose access to healthcare, and expect at least tens of thousands to die unnecessary deaths because of this dismantling of already-inadequate public healthcare.

Ayn Rand worshipper Paul Ryan is itching to dismantle Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Expect some movement in that direction. Expect Republicans to cut benefits for both Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries, perhaps eliminate Social Security as we know it for workers under the age of 45 (or 35 or 55), to at least attempt to replace Social Security with some sort of individual-investment plan (which would leave the bottom 50% or so of workers s.o.l.), and perhaps to eliminate Medicaid outright.

Reproductive Rights. Expect continued assaults on the right to abortion and even access to contraception. If Trump appoints more than one member of the Supreme Court, expect repeal of Roe v. Wade

TBGL Rights. Expect a slew of “religious freedom” measures, both federal and state, to institutionalize discrimination.

Emboldened Racists/Fascists. The KKK endorsed Trump, and in his election campaign he repeatedly endorsed and even urged thuggish behavior. Expect fascists and racists to engage in public intimidation, including physical attack, of political opponents and expect a spike in racist murders of black and hispanic people.

 

Where it’s a wash:

The Surveillance State. Despite his professed admiration for Wikileaks during the campaign, one can assume that that admiration was entirely hypocritical. Like Clinton would have, Trump will almost certainly continue the war on whistle blowers and the mass, intense surveillance of all of us.

 

Now the good news:

Believe it or not, there is some.

Foreign Policy. Given Clinton’s history of poor judgment, arrogance, war-mongering, support of coups (Honduras 2009), friendship with a notorious war criminal (Henry Kissinger), abject servility to the Israeli extreme right, support of repressive Islamist regimes (most notably Saudi Arabia), and bellicosity toward Russia, it’s hard to imagine Trump being worse. He might even end up being somewhat isolationist, which would be a marked improvement over the disastrous Bush/Obama/Clinton interventionist foreign policy.

Trade Policy. The TTP is dead. Clinton would almost certainly have pushed it, under the cover of minor changes that would have “met her objections.” Trump might push for repeal of NAFTA and other previous trade deals. But at this point, the damage from these deals is largely done. Trump might also push for protectionist trade policies, which is worrisome from two standpoints: 1) They primarily benefit corporations, who reap profits as consumer prices rise; 2) Trade wars sometimes precede real wars.

Still, rejection of further “free trade” agreements (they’re not; they’re highly managed trade agreements) is a step in the right direction.

Decline of the corporate, status quo Democrats. The engineers of the Trump/Clinton disaster will almost certainly decline in influence within the Democratic Party, and one hopes, though probably in vain, that they’ll be driven out of town on a rail. If Clinton had won, they’d still be riding high, they and their Republican co-conspirators would continue to screw working people economically, and Republicans would continue to point to the White House while pretending that they weren’t equally if not more culpable.

With Clinton and her corporado friends having delivered victory to the most grotesque major-party presidential candidate since Andrew Jackson, there will be a war for control of the Democratic Party between progressives and the servants of the corporations and 1%. This is good news: the progressives might win.

No full-blown Fascist Movement. If Clinton had won, and the economic situation of working people continued to fester, popular anger would have continued to build, with blame falling on Clinton and the Democrats. This increasing populist anger could all too easily have taken the form of an organized fascist movement. As is, the fascists remain a small, disorganized faction.

Following Trump’s victory, the pressure driving the growth of fascism is off. There will be fascist thuggery and murders in the upcoming years, but fascist factions will likely remain small and disorganized.

Trump won’t deliver on his economic promises. He can’t. His policies virtually guarantee that life will get worse for most Americans, which means he’ll likely be a one-term president. Of course, when things go south, Trump will likely fall back on racial and immigrant scapegoating. But fewer people should buy it.

When at least a substantial portion of his followers realize that Trump and the Republicans have betrayed them–as they inevitably will–and if the corporate Democrats are ousted, real change could and likely will follow.

Let’s just hope it’s change for the better.

And let’s do what we can to make it so.